Making America Healthy

December 4, 2009

The Senate will continue to debate health care reform through the weekend. But according to David Coates, political science professor at Wake Forest University and an expert on the health care reform legislation, we will not fully resolve our health care crisis until we choose to start living healthily again as individuals, as an economy, and as a society. In the first of a three-part series, he shares his insights into how to make America healthy.

Healthy as Individuals

By David Coates

France comes top of all the league tables of world health not just because of the clever way it organizes its health care system. It comes top because of the French diet – wine, freshly made bread, olive oil, and significantly lower intakes of industrially-produced food: all a fortunate by-product of the under-developed state of the French agrarian and retail sector. The French are not obese. Walking is not a loss art in France as it visibly is in parts of North America. As Americans we are becoming fat, at an ever earlier age and at a growing rate.  In June 2009 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the direct medical costs of obesity now total $147 billion a year, 9% of all American medical costs. (You can add to that $116 billion to treat diabetes and billions more to treat the cardiovascular and cancer conditions linked to the Western diet.[i] ) American fast food not only feeds us fast. It also kills us fast. The American car not only drives us to the far horizon. It also brings us to our own final horizon faster than it should. There are serious life-style issues in play behind the health debate. There are serious issues about agribusiness and the dangers of industrial food production. There are serious moral hazard issues for all of us to face. We need to ask ourselves basic questions that so far we have ducked, to our very serious cost. Are we breeding a generation of ever greedier eaters; or are we the victims of a food industry determined to supersize their profits by supersizing us? Possibly the answer is a little of both, since corporate America creates markets as well as responds to them. Either way, we certainly need to get back to smaller portions – and to get back to healthy eating as a matter of urgency.


[i] There are some real gems out there for sale. The KFC Double Down sandwich at 1200 calories, or Starbuck’s Mocha Coconut Frappuccino Blended Coffee with Whipped Cream at 550 calories, or the KFC Famous Bowl at 720 calories, or Hardie’s Monster Thickburger at 1420 calories and 107 grams of fat (in just one sandwich), supplemented if you wish, by a dish of cheeseburger fries (each fry a mere 75 calories!). Source: Brad Reed, ‘The Fast Food Industry’s 7 Most Heinous Concoctions, Alternet August 27 2009

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