An Argument for Health Care as an Economic Driver

By 2014, if all goes well, we should have something that resembles national health care.  This may mean that millions of people who have suffered in the pool of 17.7% of Americans in the United States without health insurance, may suddenly be seeking care for everything from anxiety to obesity and beyond.

In Rhode Island, this would be a welcome relief from the recent trends in health care in terms of numbers of people with insurance.  The recent trends, according to the Rhode Island Health Commissioner’s office, are that between 2005 and 2010, the number of insured people in Rhode Island dropped by 65,000.  In 2005, there were about 620,000 people insured by the three big insurers, BCBSRI, United, and Tufts, and in 2010 this number had dropped to about 555,000.  During that same time, there was a modest increase in the number of people receiving either Rite Care and Rite Share.  If you look at the study cited below issued in January of 2011 from the Rhode Island Senate Fiscal Office, you will see that in 2009 and 2010, there was a significant amount of stimulus money that was used to cover the costs of the growing Rite Care and Rite Share programs — $35.2 million in 2009, $56.8 million in 2010, and $56.5 million in 2011.

Now, let’s give it some thought.  Let’s just say Obamacare goes through.  Could it be possible that part of the growing economy can be the growing health care provisions that are made for those nearly 50 million people who are newly insured?  Could neighborhoods in South Providence, downtown Woonsocket, and Eden Park Cranston all begin to flourish with new health care providers serving the throngs of people flocking in for health care?  Statistically, the uninsured are more likely to be obese, smokers, and drinkers, so there are plenty of preventative care issues that could be addressed with could treatment plans.

So instead of giving $75 million to Curt Schilling and betting on the idea that we need another MMOG video game on the internet where people will waste time being sedentary and eating junk food while they try to climb inane hierarchies, perhaps we should think about ways that government can promote health care businesses that will likely be in great demand in the very near future.

Link to the report on Privately Insured Rhode Islanders

Link to report on RITE Care and RITE Share Insured Rhode Islanders

Bursting With Food Energy

That’s the kind of copy advertising agents would put on a box of candy-coated cereal before they realized that even the American public knows ‘food energy’ is another word for ‘calories’.

‘Extreme’– a manly word, still works. MacDonald’s sold a lot of ‘Double Down’ sandwiches by appealing to our inner ‘bad boy’. The Jack in the Box Bacon Milkshake sounds like an idea whose time has come.

The bacon shake is made with no actual bacon, just real vanilla ice cream, bacon-flavored syrup, whipped topping and a maraschino cherry, according to the website. We were thinking this had to be the most trayf food known to mankind before we saw the ingredient list. We’ll get to the nutritional info in a minute.

If you guessed a thousand calories, you’re guessing low. I love it that most of the ingredients are not found in nature. ‘Whipped topping’?

I start the ‘ShapeUpRI’ weight loss study on Monday. I went to a meeting last night and there– placed on each chair– were the dreaded books. Like in the TRIM study, we’re going to record every calorie we eat. With a bacon shake and a bunch of celery, I’ll be good for a week.

Fat Rats?

Sean, a nurse who blogs at My Strong Medicine cites some studies showing that lab animals, and even feral rats are getting bigger decade by decade.

From the dawn of time, rats eat everything they can find and spend the rest of their time scurrying. So, is it something in the water?

If it were just kids, we could blame obesity on the cutbacks in phys-ed classes, school vending machines that sell high-calorie junk, and the substitution of videogames for kickball. If it were just adults, we could blame obesity on supersizing, fast-food meals, and pedestrian-unfriendly towns that force everyone into a car. But while 68 percent of American adults qualify as overweight or obese, and 17 percent of children do (compared with 5 percent in 1971), there are other increasingly pudgy populations. Meet some overweight pets, lab animals, and even urban rats.

Follow this link to Newsweek for the rest of the story.

Weight control is a multi-factor challenge. Willpower and physical activity are key. Still, human nature hasn’t changed since the 1970’s, and the rat-infested alleys haven’t changed the lifestyles of the rats infesting them.

It took a long time for society to figure out what cigarettes do to the body. This will take longer, because it’s not going to come down to one bad chemical in the environment, but complicated interactions between diet, lifestyle, demographics and microbiology. What a mess. I’m going to put this netbook down and wash some dishes, and burn a few calories while I’m at it.


Are we just losing our willpower year by year?

About a third of people in nine states were obese in 2009, a dramatic increase from 2007, when only three states had obesity rates that high, a new survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

USA Today has a frightening map of obesity rates by state and year, and the CDC has the same map with more detail.

Were we all more virtuous thirty years ago, or has our environment changed? Certainly there are more temptations to be sedentary, and activity is being squeezed out of our daily routine. Cuts to public transit, to physical education in public schools, and lack of walkable communities all play a role. But what is happening to our food?

Between 1970 and 1990 the use of high-fructose corn syrup increased 1000%.

Corn is subsidized by the government, but people don’t eat that much fresh corn. The money is in the refined product. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful, and it’s not only a sweetener, it’s a preservative. The industry says there’s no difference between one sweetener and another, but recent research suggests otherwise…

In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported. High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.

“Our findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic,” Avena said.

Correlation is not causation, but a grocery list of new, refined additions to our diet and an increase in obesity and diabetes is suspicious.

As bad as this is, it could get worse. A study shows a link between high fructose corn syrup and the growth of cancer cells. Business journalist Dana Blankenhorn asks if corn syrup will become the new tobacco.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a corn-based sweetener developed in 1957 and engineered into a wide range of food starting in 1975, looks headed to becoming a major health concern of this generation.
In the process Archer Daniels-Midland may become a one-company “big tobacco.”

And just as tax money intended to supply our soldiers with food in WWII was diverted into big tobacco– resulting in addiction and lung cancer for many veterans of that war, industry lobbyists succeeded in changing regulations so that food stamps could be used for soda. It’s a diversion of money that is supposed to be used to aid farmers and improve nutrition for low-income people.

What would ADM do with all that corn syrup? One answer is found on the ingredients list of almost any processed food– it’s in thousands of foods we don’t even think of as sweet. Read the label. And there’s another business plan. Send it to the second most obese nation–Mexico.

Mexico lost a trade dispute that had protected its domestic sugar production, and a flood of cheap corn syrup from the USA will displace sugar in their soft drinks. Meanwhile, some health-conscious Americans are buying Mexican soda sweetened with sugar to avoid the scary HFCS.

I have to say that this just plain sounds like evil product dumping. Nothing good will come in the long run if we export something that Americans have come to believe is unfit to eat. There is even evidence that people of Native American descent have a higher risk of health problems from a diet high in refined carbs. Ten percent of Mexicans are indigenous, and the majority of the population have mixed ancestry.

So we’re talking about dumping a cheap sweetener that Americans are getting leery of on to a poor nation whose people may be especially vulnerable to the health risks.

Why are our tax dollars subsidizing corn anyway? It’s not the most nutritious food crop. Why can’t Archer Daniels Midland GROW SOMETHING ELSE?

Obesity and being overweight are complex problems, with many causes. Willpower is one factor, certainly. But human nature can’t have changed so drastically in thirty years that we’ve all become gluttons. What has changed in thirty years is our environment, many small losses of activity and nutrition, many new chemical pollutants in our air and water. We’re all subjects in a global experiment in unnatural living and the results are starting to come in.

One great accomplishment of our time was getting the lead out of our gasoline and cleaning up our housing. Another was getting cigarette smoking out of the workplace and educating people about secondhand smoke.

Fixing our national obesity and diabetes epidemic will take more than slapping a ‘natural’ label on a box of donuts. But for the most part we know what we need to do. My neighborhood farmer’s market is open tomorrow. They take food stamps, and not everything there is expensive. They are part of the solution. It’s a start.

MORE: Here’s a link to this week’s news on HFCS and cancer. Kraft and Coca-Cola are fighting a tax on soda. There’s no hope that one person can get around corporate lobbyists, but you vote with your dollar every time you go to the store. Yacht Club sells a nice sparkling water and it’s local.

DRUNKARD AMERICA: Michael Pollard in ‘The Omnivores’s Dillemma’ recounts a fascinating historical episode of widespread alcohol abuse and cheap corn whiskey. The dynamic is the same– lots of corn and the advantage of creating a processed, indestructable product that people will crave and buy—

As it is today, the clever thing to do with all that cheap corn was to process it — specifically, to distill it into alcohol. The Appalachian range made it difficult and expensive to transport surplus corn from the lightly settled Ohio River Valley to the more populous markets of the East, so farmers turned their corn into whiskey — a more compact and portable, and less perishable, value-added commodity. Before long the price of whiskey plummeted to the point that people could afford to drink it by the pint. Which is precisely what they did.

Prohibition was a disaster, but it was an attempt to solve a real social problem. One parellel here is that most people can handle alcohol in moderation, but most people can’t drink a pint of whiskey every day without becoming dependent or addicted. Most of us like sweets, but a highly refined sugar added to almost everything we eat is a diet that is addictive and unhealthy for anyone with a tendency to put on weight. When did you ever go to the store and buy a bottle of high-fructose corn syrup? The sixty pounds a year the average American consumes are added to other foods we buy. And some foods are so salted you don’t even know it’s sweetened unless you read the label.

He Fought the Donuts, and the Donuts Won

Wow, is it a conspiracy? Synchronicity? A mere coincidence?

As Rhode Island reels from the epic clash between Tim Hortons and marriage equality, a doctor takes on the doughnut industry, and is crushed beneath its massive girth.

PENSACOLA, Fla. – Dr. Jason Newsom railed against burgers, french fries, fried chicken and sweet tea in his campaign to promote better eating in a part of the country known as the Redneck Riviera. He might still be leading the charge if he had only left the doughnuts alone.

Pensacola is now minus a doctor and donuts rule.