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Posted by on Sep 19, 2009 in Health | 2 comments

Micheal Pollan Predicts Big Food Will Be Brought To Account By Big Insurance

If you, like me, missed Micheal Pollan’s OpEd in the NYTimes last week, it’s worth a read:

No one disputes that the $2.3 trillion we devote to the health care industry is often spent unwisely, but the fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. Even the most efficient health care system that the administration could hope to devise would still confront a rising tide of chronic disease linked to diet.

That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of health care spending now goes to treat “preventable chronic diseases.” Not all of these diseases are linked to diet — there’s smoking, for instance — but many, if not most, of them are.

We’re spending $147 billion to treat obesity, $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions more to treat cardiovascular disease and the many types of cancer that have been linked to the so-called Western diet. One recent study estimated that 30 percent of the increase in health care spending over the past 20 years could be attributed to the soaring rate of obesity, a condition that now accounts for nearly a tenth of all spending on health care.

He wants food reform to figure in the national conversation on health care reform. Much as I am an admirer of Pollan, I can’t imagine that would do anything but make the “conversation” even more heated than it already is.

Pollan admits as much saying that “reforming the food system is politically even more difficult than reforming the health care system.” I like his line that “One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.”

With that Pollan says change is coming. He expects any reform will end pre-existing condition exclusions and coverage caps. With that, it will be in the insurance industry’s interest to reform the food system in order to avoid the costly food-induced ills:

When health insurers can no longer evade much of the cost of treating the collateral damage of the American diet, the movement to reform the food system — everything from farm policy to food marketing and school lunches — will acquire a powerful and wealthy ally, something it hasn’t really ever had before.

Pollan imagines the food industry throwing its weight behind a soda tax and school lunch reform. Ezra Klein is skeptical of all of it. “Why doesn’t he think insurers will just continue to pass costs through to employers and government?”

RELATED: Pollan discusses his piece with Guy Raz on All Things Considered.

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  • superdestroyer

    If you want people to look out for their health, make them pay their own insurance bills and let the insurance company to charge higher prices for obese people or those who have other unhealthy lifestyles.

    However, with the Democrats health care proposals, the healthy will be subsidizing the unhealthy. With no prior conditions, no denial, and no risk management, the people who live the riskiest lifestyles will get health care subsidized by the healthy.

  • hot topic. perhaps incentives could lead to innovations in food products, such as resistant starches:
    “Without changing their diets, and without sacrificing taste and convenience, consumers can obtain additional fiber and other valuable health advantages by eating popular foods like breads, pasta and cereal containing this natural fiber from corn. ”

    Or supplementing common difficult to digest foods with probiotics:

    “Probiotics have been defined as live microorganisms that (when ingested) have a beneficial effect in the prevention and treatment of specific medical conditions. These microorganisms are believed to exert biological effects through a phenomenon known as colonization resistance, whereby the indigenous anaerobic flora limits the concentration of potentially harmful (mostly aerobic) germs in the digestive tract. Other modes of action, such as supplying enzymes or influencing enzyme activity in the gastrointestinal tract, may also account for some of the other functions that have been attributed to probiotics.”

    Preventable illness is the low hanging fruit of lowering health cost. It so disturbs me when the libertarian streak about “nanny state” policies, keeps people from considering what we could do to improve national health and lower health care costs. It’s no mystery what our major health risks are in America: heart disease, cancer, respiratory disease, diabetes and liver disease. Anything we can do to reduce the risks of these killers prolongs life and reduces costs. Smoking and diet are by far the biggest culprits, exercise and diet the major remedies (and not smoking). Supplements and “functional foods” can reduce risk too.

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