Politicians love to target pharma but avoid real issues

The data are stark: the typical American diet is shortening the lives of many Americans. Diet-related deaths outrank deaths from smoking, and about half of U.S. deaths from heart disease – nearly 900 deaths a day – are linked to poor diet, yet politicians around the country are telling voters they will take on “big pharma.” What we have here is failure to communicate.

The pharma industry has continued to raise prices and reward CEOs with multimillion-dollar salaries while the cost of products like insulin remains high. The media and politicians are great at reminding the public about high drug prices because it’s a widespread issue while avoiding the real reasons our healthcare costs so much.

The Affordable Care Act mandates that insurers cover diet counseling as a preventive care benefit for those at higher risk of chronic disease. The exact details of who is eligible for which services are left up to an advisory group of doctors, health care providers, and insurers. Many patients who would benefit may not have access to this service, but it’s needed.

Tufts University and Italian researchers compared the consumption of ultra-processed foods among 46,341 men and 159,907 women to cancer data collected from several studies. The findings, published in The BMJ, found definitive links between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and increased risks for cardiovascular disease, colorectal (bowel) cancer, and even early death.

Men in the top 20 percent in terms of ultra-processed food consumption displayed a 29-percent increased likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. That number remained high even after factoring in body mass index (BMI) and lifestyle factors such as smoking.

A second study analyzed in the recent BMJ findings showed that people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods and beverages had a 19-percent higher risk of death from any illness. They were 32 percent more likely to die due to cardiovascular disease.

Cardiovascular mortality rates were nearly one-fifth higher for people with extremely high intakes of ultra-processed foods across all studies. Colorectal and breast cancer rates were significantly higher among people with higher-than-average consumption of ultra-processed foods.

In the meantime preventing heart failure could be as simple as taking a leisurely walk for up to a half-hour each day, a new study finds. Scientists say 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, such as a brisk stroll, is enough to reduce the risk of cardiac arrest and stroke.

75 to 150 minutes of vigorous exercise a week also cuts risk, but only by an additional three percent. Researchers with the American Heart Association found people who engaged in 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise weekly had a 63-percent lower risk of developing heart failure compared to couch potatoes who barely participated in any exercise.

The authors say that people with risk factors for heart problems — such as being overweight, having high blood pressure, and having high blood sugar and cholesterol levels — would particularly benefit from exercising more.

Vigorous exercisers who participated in activities like jogging, running, climbing stairs, swimming, bicycling, aerobics, playing sports, and working outdoors for 150 to 299 minutes, had a lower mortality rate of between 21% and 23% for all causes of death.

This exercise group also had lower cardiovascular deaths between 27% and 33% and lower non-cardiovascular deaths by 19%. People who exercised vigorously for more than 300 minutes per week “did not have further lower mortality,” according to the study.

On the other hand, moderate exercisers who participated in activities like walking, weightlifting performing lower-intensity workouts, and calisthenics for 150 to 299 minutes had a lower mortality rate between 20% and 21% for all causes of death.

In summary: Healthcare costs in the U.S. will continue to increase dramatically even if all prescription drugs are free until we address Americans’ lack of exercise and poor eating habits.