Food is the number one cause of poor health in America

Key Takeaway:Our dietary habits are the leading driver of death and disability, causing an estimated 700,000 deaths each year.  Poor diet causes nearly half of all US deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. There are almost 1,000 deaths from these causes alone, every day.

If we want to cut down on disease and achieve meaningful health care reform, we should make it a top nonpartisan priority to address our nation’s nutrition crisis.  Our dietary habits are the leading driver of death and disability, causing an estimated 700,000 deaths each year.

About twice as many Americans are estimated to die each year from eating hot dogs and other processed meats (~58,000 deaths/year) than from car accidents (~35,000 deaths/year).

Diet-related conditions account for vast health expenditures. Each year, cardiovascular diseases alone result in about US$200 billion in direct health care spending and another US$125 billion in lost productivity and other indirect costs.  At the same time, health care costs cripple the productivity and profits of American businesses. From small to large companies, crushing health care expenditures are a major obstacle to growth and success.

Nutrition is virtually ignored by our health care system and in the health care debates – both now and a decade ago when Obamacare was passed.

A national program to subsidize the cost of fruits and vegetables by 10 percent could save 150,000 lives over 15 years , while a national 10 percent soda tax could save 30,000 lives.  Similarly, a government-led initiative to reduce salt in packaged foods by about three grams per day could prevent tens of thousands of cardiovascular deaths each year, while saving between US$10 to $24 billion in health care costs annually.

Every dollar spent on wellness programs generates about $3.27 in lower medical costs and $2.73 in less absenteeism.  

In 2012, Ohio Senator Rob Portman proposed a Medicare “Better Health Rewards” program to reward seniors for not smoking and for achieving lower weight, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol.

This program should be reintroduced, with updated technology platforms and financial incentives for healthier eating and physical activity.

Dariush Mozaffarian, Professor of Nutrition, Tufts University.

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