Environment

The Ways We Must Understand How Health Is Connected to Food, Exercise, Stress and the Rest

It is all interrelated—and poverty, and exposure to environmental toxins, are big factors.

Doctor Discussing Records With Senior Female Patient
Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

As evidenced by the 2016 primary and general elections, Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Independents—want real change, radical change, not just “business as usual.” That’s why Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) nearly won the Democratic Party nomination in 2016 with his call for a “revolution,” including Medicare for all, reining in Wall Street, higher taxes on corporate profits, an end to wars in the Middle East, and free tuition for students at public colleges. Polls consistently indicated that had Sanders won the Democratic Party nomination, he could have defeated Trump by a significant margin.

On the Republican side of the partisan divide, 63 million (mainly white), bitterly dissatisfied Americans cast their votes against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed revolutionary, who promised to “Make America Great Again” by reducing taxes and by raising the living standards of everyday Americans. Trump’s platform included putting an end to Obamacare and providing a more effective and affordable system of healthcare by devolving power to the states.

Since his inauguration, Trump and his minions have unfortunately declared war on the majority of Americans with a divisive, indeed alarming series of sexist, racist, authoritarian and homophobic policy pronouncements and executive orders. After declaring he would “drain the swamp” of lobbyists and special interests, Trump has instead hypocritically put forth the nominations of corporate millionaires, billionaires, Wall Street insiders, militarists and climate deniers to his Cabinet, along with an anti-abortion extremist to the Supreme Court, and has enacted a series of executive decrees on immigration, environmental pollution, and pipelines that have brought millions of protesters out into the streets.

According to the well-respected Institute on Agriculture and Trade Policy:

“Trump has issued instructions to effectively gag government scientists, thus threatening continuity and public accountability in research, and is preparing to gut regulations across multiple sectors that were designed in the public interest. He is building a cabinet of powerful millionaires and billionaires, some of whom oppose the very purpose that their agencies are mandated to serve. He is perpetuating the idea that recognition of climate change is subject to a belief system rather than to scientific evidence. He is attempting to reverse the social-, economic- and environmental-achievement and promise of renewable energy. —IATP newsletter, Feb. 4, 2017.

One of the most pressing crises we face, a major topic in the 2016 elections, is our rapidly deteriorating public health and healthcare system. Unfortunately, neither establishment Democrats nor Republicans appear ready to “bite the hand that feeds them” (Big Pharma, the American Medical Association, insurance companies, junk food conglomerates, corporate agribusiness, chemical polluters) and offer a real solution, in terms of effective and affordable healthcare and public policy that address the underlying causes of rampant disease and sickness, not just the symptoms.

The root causes of the world’s most expensive and ineffective system of healthcare—the U.S. healthcare system—are not only medical errors (failing to focus on prevention and nutrition, for example) and malpractice (the third leading cause of death in America), but also the self-destructive lifestyle choices or addictions (junk food, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and lack of exercise) of the majority of the population. The everyday behavior of consumers in our Fast Food nation, compounded by the routine profit-at-any-cost contamination of our environment, have not only degenerated public health, but have raised healthcare costs ($3.3 trillion per year and rising) to the point where they are threatening to bankrupt our entire economic system.

We literally cannot afford to provide universal healthcare for all as long as our medical model is focused on treating the ever more serious and widespread sicknesses of the body politic (for example obesity and diabetes) rather than the underlying causes. However, with the right preventive and holistic approach, we could easily afford Medicare for all—and it would cost much less for both consumers and employers than what we are spending now.

Millions of Trump supporters say one of the main reasons they voted for Trump and the Republicans was to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. The ACA, launched with great fanfare by Obama and congressional Democrats, supposedly to make quality healthcare available and affordable to all Americans, became increasingly unpopular once it proved incapable of taming Big Pharma’s insatiable lust for profits. As costs and deductibles rose, and once people realized they were forced by federal law to purchase health insurance, no matter what the cost, Obamacare lost much of its support.

Although millions of previously uninsured Americans with pre-existing conditions or low incomes have benefited from Obamacare (along with Big Pharma and insurance companies whose profits increased because the law made it mandatory to purchase health insurance), it looks like the ACA may now be replaced by a system of taxpayer-funded, but state-administered block grants and health savings accounts.

Trumpcare, in most states, will likely lead to reduced benefits for poor individuals or families, and make it harder for the tens of millions of Americans with chronic and often serious pre-existing conditions to afford health insurance. At the same time it will likely provide tax advantages for large businesses and upper-income Americans. On the positive side, from the standpoint of natural health consumers, Trumpcare may indeed offer more choice for middle- and upper-income consumers on how they spend the money in their health savings accounts, including more flexibility on vaccine choice and expanded coverage for natural health remedies, supplements and practices, including naturopathy and homeopathy.

Meanwhile polls indicate that more than 60 percent of Americans are not that enthusiastic about either Obamacare or Trumpcare. Most consumers say they would prefer a Medicare-for-all program of universal healthcare paid for by employers and individuals, with the wealthy and the corporations paying their fair share. Under the popular Medicare for All plan proposed by Bernie Sanders, employers would pay a 6.2-percent health tax and workers a 2.2-percent tax to pay for healthcare for all, with an average saving in healthcare costs of $5,000 for middle-class families, savings of $9,000 per employee for businesses and $6 trillion in healthcare cost savings over a decade for the entire country.

But with the Trump administration and the current makeup of Congress and state legislatures, don’t hold your breath waiting for a Bernie Sanders-style Medicare-for-All program. If we’re ever going to see universal healthcare for all with a focus on prevention, natural health and consumer choice—what we call regenerative health—we will  have to elect a brand-new Congress along with a brand-new slate of radical-minded local and state elected political officials, what Bernie Sanders supporters call “Our Revolution.”

A growing majority of Americans are chronically sick and dispirited

The American public is swimming in a toxic soup of 90,000 basically unregulated industrial and agricultural chemicals—carcinogens, neurotoxins, pesticides, hormone disruptors, immune suppressors, excitotoxins, and GMOs. People are worn down by corporate junk food, tainted consumer products, air and water pollution, incessant advertising, infectious disease, synthetic pharmaceutical drugs, dangerous vaccines, cigarette smoke, and alcohol; they are stressed out by poverty and economic insecurity, fear of crime, rampant consumerism, and a murderous work pace.

Mainstream medical practitioners, the corporate media and elected public officials continue to ignore or cover up the toxic, business-as-usual, roots of this crisis. Corrupt politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike support a powerful medical-industrial pharmaceutical complex that offers expensive, yet mostly ineffective, drugs and treatment to allay our growing public health crisis. Then they proceed to collect their payoffs in the form of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, insurance companies, and HMOs.

A recent case in point is the rejection by the U.S. Senate of a commonsense bill put forward by Bernie Sanders to require U.S. government, taxpayer-funded health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid and the Veterans Administration) to bargain with Big Pharma to lower prescription drug prices and to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. Not only did Senate Republicans vote against this bill, but they were provided a margin of victory by the support of 13 Democratic senators. And of course President Trump, notwithstanding his recent rhetoric about how Big Pharma is gouging us, said nothing.

Big Pharma spends more on lobbying than any other industry in the United States, according to the Center for Public Integrity. In addition, Big Pharma feeds the insatiable appetite of the mainstream media, spending more than $5 billion dollars a year on advertising, including advertising pharmaceutical drugs, a practice banned in every other industrialized nation except New Zealand. Last but not least, U.S. doctors make more money than any other medical practitioners in the world, though they typically pay a steep price in terms of a 70-hour work-week, skyrocketing malpractice insurance, and indentured servitude to Big Pharma, insurance companies and giant hospitals.

American consumers and employers will spend over $3 trillion this year on health insurance, pharmaceutical drugs, hospitals, and medical bills, yet we remain among the unhealthiest people on Earth. Forty-eight percent of U.S. men and 38% of women can now look forward to getting cancer. A third of our children suffer from chronic disease, eight percent suffer from serious food allergies, 10% from asthma, 17% are diagnosed with learning or behavior disabilities, almost two percent from autism, while a third of low-income preschool kids are overweight or obese. Heart disease, diabetes, mental illness, cancer, and obesity are spiraling out of control among all sectors of the population.

The fundamental causes of most of our chronic health problems are not genetic or inherited, but rather derive from couch potato/commuter lifestyles; over consumption of highly processed, high-cholesterol, nutritionally deficient, and contaminated factory-farmed and industrialized foods; and an increasingly polluted, stressful, and toxic environment.

These are problems that even the most expensive prescription drugs and high-tech medical procedures cannot cure. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come. Within a few years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and others, America’s health care costs will soar beyond four trillion dollars annually, bankrupting Medicare and millions of American families and businesses.  Unless we quickly change our priorities from “maintaining” our Degeneration Nation to universally preventing disease and promoting overall wellness–including cleaning up our food supply and environment–America’s health crisis will become terminal.

With millions of Americans mentally or physically debilitated, permanently hooked on the world’s most expensive prescription drugs, Big Pharma, HMOs, and insurance tycoons rake in billions.

According to Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, in 2002:

“The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has [become] a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, [using] its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself.”

Keep in mind these figures are from 14 years ago. Currently Big Pharma rakes in over $500 billion in revenues in the U.S .and Canada alone.

In order to bring about radical change, we will have to put the “fear of the grassroots” into the minds of Congress and the nation’s several hundred thousand elected public officials. But we will only be able to accomplish this if can move beyond partisan tunnel-vision politics and Big Pharma industrial medicine.

The critics of corporate healthcare and Big Pharma must stop quibbling. It’s time to close ranks, and mobilize a massive united front to support the progressive Medicare for All healthcare movement, representing the 40 million Americans with no or inadequate health insurance, the 20 million with pre-existing conditions, and the 60 million more who simply can’t afford Obamacare or Trump healthcare prices. These 120 million dissatisfied and economically stressed out Americans need to be reinforced by an army of radicals and libertarians, the 50 million alternative heath consumers who have rejected Big Pharma’s trillion-dollar drug and health maintenance scam altogether. Unless we bring together liberals, radicals, and natural health advocates, and mobilize this new majority, around a new model of public health focused on disease prevention and wellness promotion, rather than so-called “health maintenance,” we will fail.

We need universal, publicly funded healthcare because millions of sick and disadvantaged Americans are suffering and dying. We need universal healthcare because Big Pharma, HMOs and insurance companies are gouging consumers, profitably “maintaining” their illnesses rather than curing them, steadily moving the nation along a trajectory that combined with out-of-control military spending and corporate tax evasion, will eventually bankrupt the economy.

Can we afford universal healthcare with a focus on prevention and wellness?

In every industrialized country in the world, except for the U.S, medical care is considered a basic human right, alongside food and shelter, which a civilized society must provide for all. Taking the profits out of healthcare and eliminating the vast army of bureaucrats who administer our current for-profit healthcare system in favor of turning over responsibility to our federal Social Security and Medicaid administration will save us $360 billion in administration costs. Slashing our bloated military budget will bring in hundreds of billions of dollars, plenty of money to pay for every American to be enrolled in Medicare for All and receive the medical care they choose (including natural health products and practitioners) and need, and plenty of money to start changing our food and farming and land-use system from one that makes people sick, to one that makes people healthy.

In the U.S. corporations paid almost 40 percent of all federal taxes in 1943. Now they pay less than 10 percent. In 1960, millionaires were taxed at the rate of 90 percent. Now the top rate for millionaires and billionaires is 35 percent. Trump plans to reduce this tax rate on the rich and large corporations even more. Putting an end to this institutionalized tax evasion is a prerequisite for being able to afford publicly funded universal health care, without raising taxes for the middle class, the working class and poor communities.

Regenerating public health

As 75 million organic consumers and alternative health consumers can attest, complementary and preventive medicine, using natural herbs, minerals, natural vitamins and supplements, organic whole foods, lifestyle changes, and holistic healing practices are safe, affordable and effective. Preventive healthcare, natural medicine, and proper nutrition have been linked to a broad range of health and social benefits, including disease reduction, increased academic performance, and lower healthcare costs.

Of course we still need conventional medicine and practitioners: hospitals, diagnostic tests, surgeons, and specialists, as well as preventive and holistic healers. I am a vocal advocate for organic food and integrative medicine, but if I suffer a heart attack, break my leg or get shot in an anti-war demonstration, I want to be taken to a well-equipped and staffed hospital, not to a health food store or my local acupuncturist. But after my hospital treatment, I don’t want to become a prescription drug junkie or be driven into bankruptcy court by a $100,000 hospital bill.

The problem is clear. The solution is obvious. The multi-trillion-dollar life-or-death question is, can we overcome our partisan and sectarian divisions and mobilize the grassroots power of the majority of Americans? Can we heal the perennial split between proponents of conventional medicine and the alternative health consumer movement? Can progressives and natural health advocates reach out to the economically disadvantaged and stressed-out majority to create a massive grassroots pressure that will literally force our currently indentured politicians to do the right thing? Can we figure out how to change people’s self-destructive eating and lifestyle decisions, while still respecting individual liberty?

It’s time to overthrow Big Pharma’s control over our government, our health and our pocketbooks. It’s time to regenerate public health and the body politic. It’s time for a Regeneration Revolution.

For more Information: Surprising Links: How Big Banks Manipulate and Influence Your Health

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and its Mexico affiliate, Via Organica

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