Saturday, October 3, 2009

Letter For Obama Re: Healthcare debate, from World's Healthiest Foods (.org)

Article taken from the site World's Healthiest Foods, Open Letter to President Barack Obama. You can link directly to the article by clicking on the following link:

Open Letter to President Barack Obama

June 24, 2009

Dear President Obama,

Thank you for all you are trying to do to truly change and improve our society. Because of your willingness to fight for real change, I am encouraged to write and urge you to take bold action and include a campaign for a "Healthier Way of Eating" (as part of a healthier lifestyle) in your universal healthcare plan. Promoting a healthier way of eating will provide Americans with the most powerful means to prevent disease and will save not only millions of lives, but billions of dollars in healthcare costs.

In the following pages of this letter, I want to demonstrate how you can cut as much as 50% of current healthcare costs over the next 4 years, without cutting healthcare services, by implementing a campaign to put a healthier way of eating at the forefront of healthcare. It is my conviction that the health of Americans and the national economy will be unable to overcome our current healthcare crisis. Without a campaign promoting a healthier way of eating, your universal healthcare plan will not be addressing one of the most significant underlying causes of disease and therefore its likelihood of either improving healthcare or cutting costs will be greatly reduced.

Scientific studies continue to demonstrate that among all lifestyle factors, no single factor is more important to our health than the food we eat. A campaign educating Americans about the benefits of eating healthier-and how to make healthy eating choices-would be a highly effective and relatively inexpensive means of improving our health.

Because the concept of practicing a healthier way of eating is so amazingly simple, a campaign focusing on healthy eating can easily be overlooked as a means to resolve our healthcare problems. Yet, promoting the intake of nutrient-rich, health-promoting, and satisfying foods-such as delicious fresh fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains, protein-rich beans, and omega-3 rich seafood-would prove to be one of the most powerful ways to affect positive change in our national health.

A healthier way of eating is beneficial because it will deliver the daily requirements for the essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients that are needed to work together synergistically to promote health. A healthier way of eating centered around whole, nutrient-rich, and unprocessed foods does not just provide our bodies with calories, but also the nutrients we must have to grow, create energy, and maintain optimal physiological function.

Implementing a campaign for eating healthier will automatically result in decreasing consumption of unhealthy foods-nutrient-poor refined foods that are high in trans-fats, sugar, and salt (such as cookies, sodas, snack bars, candies, and fast foods), and which do not satisfy your appetite for any length of time. These foods spike blood sugar levels, providing a short burst of energy, but do little to curb satiety. This means hunger quickly returns, and, for many people, the result is a vicious cycle of consuming more calorie-laden nutrient-poor foods, a formula that perpetuates our national obesity epidemic and the chronic preventable diseases associated with obesity: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

When it comes to health, we are particularly interested in the health of our children. Studies have correlated school success with eating health-promoting foods. The impact of nutrition on the ability of our youth to succeed in school is a core reason for a campaign for a healthier way of eating. This is of utmost importance because, currently, half of all high school students drop out before graduation. And, with respect to the rest of the world, we come in 24th in science and 25th in mathematical competency.

The Federal Government has long assumed the responsibility for protecting the health of Americans, by providing education about food safety and the dangers of cigarette smoking. Today, Americans' greatest need is an understanding of the effects of the foods we eat upon our health. In its role as the protector of our society, it falls to the Federal Government to educate Americans that healthy eating can promote health and help reduce the risk of chronic preventable diseases.

A public-health educational campaign about the benefits of a healthier way of eating could be just as aggressive and effective as public-health campaigns have been about the dangers of smoking. Judging by the success of recent antismoking campaigns, such an effort would result in the promotion of health and substantial savings to the healthcare system.

The Key Reasons for our Healthcare Crisis

Healthcare costs have risen from $3,468 per person in 1993 to $8,160 in 2008, and costs continue to rise. It is estimated that in the next 5 years, healthcare costs will increase almost another 50% to $13,100. These high costs might be justifiable if Americans benefitted by being among the healthiest people in the world, but sadly, we are far less healthy than people living in countries where healthcare costs are much lower. Our current system attempts to manage end-stage disease; it does not promote health. We need to change not just the way in which disease-care costs are paid, but the care that is provided. To lower healthcare costs and make true health care available to all, we need to focus on health promotion and disease prevention, not on how to shift the costs of disease care.

One of the most important contributors to health promotion is a healthy diet. Our current public-health crisis calls for a strong public-health message about the importance of diet, even at the expense of offending the food industry and pharmaceutical companies, whom I believe to be largely accountable for the current state of our national health.

Food manufacturers and restaurant chains have created a toxic food environment that is detrimental to the health of our nation. Huge servings of soft drinks, snacks, and "value" meals, which are literally penny-wise and pound foolish, have become the mainstay of the standard American diet (not ironically, abbreviated as "SAD"). We have become a nation addicted to foods high in sugar, salt, and fat, to foods of convenience rather than health. We have succumbed to advertisers and promoters of empty-calorie foods. They have become the primary influence on what foods we eat and are now so powerful that they have changed our traditional eating habits.

This type of advertising is obviously effective. Each year, the average American consumes 600 cans (or 56 gallons) of soda, 150 hamburgers, 200 orders of french-fries, 175 pounds of sugar, and 180 pounds of meat. And we purchase, on average, 125 take-out meals each year. What is more disturbing is that 90% of foods Americans purchase every year are processed foods lacking in essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants; in 1940, this statistic was only 10%. The number of people eating five servings of fruits and vegetables declined in the last 18 years from 42% to 26%. Twenty-eight hundred new types of snacks, candies, desserts, and ice cream are introduced to the marketplace every year. And these numbers continue to rise.

Food manufacturers keep us ignorant about the dangers of unhealthy foods. We must prevent them from glorifying disease-promoting foods. Advertisers effectively spend $40 billion every year convincing us of the benefits of choosing these products and brainwashing us by making them appear fashionable, fun, and glamorous while rarely mentioning nourishment. And anyone who has watched Saturday morning TV programming for children knows how the power of this type of advertising can impact us starting at a very young age.

The nutrient-poor foods the food industry produces are overly refined, overly stimulating foods, which are not satisfying because they are lacking in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and the plethora of phytonutrients found in unprocessed foods. In addition, these "foods" are rich in sugar, salt, fat, and often cause us to unknowingly consume more calories than our bodies require. Because these products contain so little of the nutrients our bodies' need, these unhealthy foods are not just addictive but harmful, causing undernourishment and nutrient deficiencies that, over time, damage our bodies and impair our health. They are the primary cause of low energy, insomnia, fatigue, and poor memory, shortly followed by insulin resistance and unwanted weight gain, leading to obesity and all the chronic preventable diseases that plague us, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

When drafting your proposal to improve the health of Americans, we call on you to stop the epidemic of food-related chronic preventable diseases by educating individuals about a healthier way of eating. Eating health-promoting foods and avoiding nutrient-poor foods are key preventative measures to avoid disease in the first place. With every individual in whom the onset of disease is prevented, hundreds, thousands, and perhaps even millions, of dollars can be saved.

A recent American Heart Association survey disclosed that 29% of the participants were purchasing fewer perishable items-including fruits and vegetables (March 2009, American Heart Association). During difficult economic times, people turn to supposedly cheap, highly processed, refined unhealthy foods. Advertisers convince them that these foods are less expensive when, in actuality, highly refined and processed foods are some of the most expensive foods one can buy. They are more costly because we pay extra for the fancy packaging, refining, processing, handling, and advertising-and also for their transport since virtually none of these foods are locally produced.

Instead of promoting health, these highly processed foods ultimately deprive us of physical and mental fitness. You get the least benefit for your money. I wouldn't even consider these items "food," but rather "food-like products."

Americans need to learn that healthy foods do not necessarily have to cost more than their unhealthy counterparts; in fact, a review of data by the USDA published in 2008 found that refined grains, added sugars, added fats, and processed foods were not the way to go in developing a low-cost, yet still nourishing food plan. The only way for the meal to remain both nourishing and low-cost was to emphasize nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.

The USDA found that the strategy used to keep food costs down at the level of 10% of earnings was none other than nutrient-richness (used as equivalent to the term "nutrient-density" which is often cited in the scientific literature); it is determined by comparing the number and amount of nutrients a food contains in relationship to its caloric content. The USDA researchers concluded that "For many American households, achieving an affordable healthy diet will require moving nutrient-dense foods, such as fruit and vegetables, to the center of their plates and budgets."

In addition to food manufacturers, I believe Big Pharma also holds responsibility for the sorry state of our national health. We need to shift our focus from the use of drugs to suppress disease symptoms to programs that help us prevent disease and promote health. Pharmaceutical companies profit from managing the health of individuals after-the-fact through the use of expensive drugs and harsh therapies, and they tell us that more money is needed for research as they are on the cusp of a long-awaited breakthrough for the cure of diseases.

Selling prescription drugs is a profit-making business, which spends $4 billion each year on direct-to-consumer advertising and $16 billion influencing physicians to prescribe their drugs. Through the use of the media, they have manipulated us to believe that drugs can provide us with the answer to all our health problems.

Consequently, we have spent enormous amounts of both time and money on symptom palliation rather than on preventing disease or treating its true underlying causes. We need to remember that while infectious diseases caused by viruses (such as typhoid, malaria, AIDs, etc) may not be preventable by lifestyle changes of diet and exercise, obesity and chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer resulting from excessive consumption of refined foods and insufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients are largely preventable.

History has taught us that looking for cures for disease is not always medically nor economically effective. President Nixon's "War on Cancer" is a great example of the unproductive nature of this approach. In 1971, he signed the National Cancer Act legislating $1.6 billion expenditure to find a cure for cancer. That year, 335,000 Americans died of cancer. In 2008, 37 years later, this number has increased to 565,650 people-up by 69%!

Since 1971, the Federal Government, private foundations and companies have spent around $200 billion in a quest to cure cancer. This $200 billion generated 1.5 million scientific papers about the basic biology of cancer. For 37 years, the War on Cancer (the majority of the funding for cancer) has gone into research to eradicate malignant cells rather than to keep normal cells from becoming malignant in the first place. The American Cancer Society and other health organizations now state that the best way to reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases is through prevention. The best way for prevention is to adopt a healthier way of eating and enjoying nutrient-rich foods, which have been found to contain many potent disease-fighting compounds that help prevent disease. Americans need to learn that the drugs used to treat today's chronic preventable diseases not only do not cure them, but would be rendered largely unnecessary.

The World Health Organization recently noted that by 2020-and for the first time in history-non-communicable chronic preventable diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer will constitute more than half of all diseases on a worldwide basis. This means that over half of the diseases that drain our healthcare budget are preventable through lifestyle changes such as the food we eat.

Experts in all areas of health policy agree that the United States is facing an unprecedented healthcare crisis. About one-fourth of the entire federal budget is currently spent on healthcare; yet, in spite of this very large expenditure of our resources (over $2.5 trillion), only half of U.S. adults say they have confidence in the healthcare system. Since the 1980s, average spending on healthcare per person in the U.S. has increased at twice the rate of healthcare spending in many other industrialized countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Sweden, Germany, and Australia. And unlike most of those countries, where approximately 8% of the country's productivity (measured as gross domestic product) is spent on healthcare, in the U.S., that percentage is twice as high at 16%.

The World Health Organization rated the United States 37th in health outcome. We spend nearly twice as much per capita than other industrialized countries, yet have a lower life expectancy, higher disease mortality among children, and we are rated 45th when it comes to longevity. We also have a shortage of nurses and primary care doctors, and our emergency rooms are overcrowded. And, perhaps the most frightening statistic, for the first time in history, our children are projected to have a shorter lifespan than we do.

How We Can Cut Healthcare Cost and Save Billions of Dollars

I would like to outline how measures to enhance the eating habits of Americans can result in reductions in healthcare expenses.

Obesity: If obesity continues to increase at its current rate, analysts predict that by the year 2020, we will be spending 20% of all our healthcare dollars on obesity-related problems. We now know that excess fat, especially visceral fat, is not merely a storage depot for extra calories, but functions as an endocrine organ significantly increasing inflammation and the risk for chronic degenerative disease. The enormous impact of obesity is due to its promotion of other chronic preventable diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. For example, experts estimate that one-half of all type 2 diabetes cases could be prevented simply by controlling obesity! If we could lower the rate of obesity (even by a modest amount) through a healthier way of eating campaign, researchers project that we could also lower cases of chronic preventable disease by about 15 million cases. That reduction in chronic preventable disease translates into $60 billion dollars less in treatment costs, and $254 billion dollars more in workplace productivity.

Heart disease: According to research experts, it would not take complicated dietary changes to trigger major reductions in heart disease rates and their associated healthcare costs. For example, if we could simply take the 2% of the calories the typical American is consuming in the form of trans-fat and replace this 2% with polyunsaturated fat, we could reduce our rate of coronary artery disease (CAD) by at least 8%, and probably by much more in the 25-30% range! Since healthcare costs related to CAD total nearly $200 billion per year, we're talking about a potential savings of $50 billion dollars from a single dietary change that swaps a small amount of polyunsaturated fat for trans-fat.

Diabetes: In 2002, an estimated $132 billion was spent on diabetes-related health problems, including about $40 billion on sick day costs and disability related to this chronic preventable disease, including blindness, amputation, heart disease, and early death. Since healthcare analysts predict that half of all diabetes cases could be prevented if obesity were prevented, approximately $40 billion in diabetes-related costs could be cut simply by the implementation of a healthier way of eating that corrected or prevented obesity. I don't have good estimates for the cost savings related to other dietary steps that can be taken to lower risk of type 2 diabetes, but I definitely know what these steps are.

Even without reversing the problem of obesity, I am confident that dietary changes to a healthier way of eating could save many lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs related to diabetes, its treatment, and its impact on everyday productivity.

Cancer: The American Cancer Society estimates that we are spending over $100 billion each year on cancer-related costs, and there is some research to suggest that about one-third of all cancer deaths could be prevented by simply choosing to eat healthier food. Since $57 billion dollars are estimated to be lost each year following premature death from cancer, prevention of 33% of these deaths by a healthier way of eating alone would mean about $20 billion dollars in healthcare savings each year. In the case of colorectal cancer, it has been estimated that a healthier way of eating combined with exercise could prevent more cases than implementation of early screening.

While it is somewhat mind-boggling to consider, all of the evidence described above points to a very clear-cut conclusion. According to healthcare experts, our best bet for reversing chronic preventable disease rates does not lie in more expensive medical procedures, or in more sophisticated technology or in further specialization with respect to testing and medication. Our best bet experts agree, lies in the simple, everyday practice of a lifestyle change in the foods that we eat. We could be saving millions of lives and several hundred billion dollars in healthcare costs related to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer if we would consistently eat health-promoting foods-foods that the peer-reviewed medical research has already demonstrated can prevent or help prevent these diseases. Instead of spending more money and having more disease (our current situation), we would be spending less money and having less disease!

What's also remarkable about the chronic preventable disease patterns described above is the degree to which they overlap when it comes to dietary prevention. Based on current research, we do not seem to need one diet for preventing heart disease, a second diet for preventing diabetes, a third diet for preventing obesity, and a fourth diet for preventing cancer.

What seems to be needed in the case of all four chronic preventable diseases is that the changes in the foods we eat move in the same general direction: decreased intake of sugar, salt, animal fat, and processed foods, and increased intake of lower-calorie, lower-fat plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Dietary prevention in the case of all four chronic preventable diseases calls for a greater focus on health-promoting foods, and a food plan that can be followed and enjoyed day after day, year after year.

Countless experts, health professionals, scientists, and not-for-profit health organizations offer strategies for avoiding heart disease, cancer, and other chronic preventable diseases through a healthier way of eating:

American Heart Association
1600 calorie diet
Fruits and vegetables - 8 servings/day
Whole grains - 6 serving/day
Low-fat dairy - 2-3 serving/day
Fish or lean meat - 3-6 oz (cooked) /day
Nuts, seeds, legumes - 3-4 servings/week
Fats and oils - 2 servings/day

They also advise people to eat less saturated fat and "nutrient-poor foods"

  • Limit saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
  • Choose skinless lean meats and poultry and don't prepare them with saturated or trans fats
  • Minimize intake of whole-fat dairy products
  • Cut back on foods and beverages that have added sugars
  • Enjoy foods that have little or no salt
American Cancer Society
Eat 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day
Choose whole grains over processed (refined) grains and sugars
Limit intake of processed meats and red meats
If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit your intake
Maintain a healthy weight throughout life
Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight
Fats and oils - 2 servings/day

How a Healthier Way of Eating Affects Success in School

Studies have found that almost twice as many high school graduates report that they are healthy and in good health compared to non-graduates. As a parent and great supporter of our educational system, you may find the correlation between healthy eating and students' success in school of particular interest.

While many people might question the importance of diet as a key factor in school success, the research here is clear. Academic success and high-level performance require the support of a healthy diet, and without such a diet, it is unreasonable to expect high-level school outcomes.

Our children's doing well in school is a top priority not only for the students themselves, but their parents and the teachers who teach them. It has also become a top priority for many communities and countries as a whole since excellence in education is so important for solving global problems that face today's generation, as well as generations to come. The list of key factors that influence school success is a long one that includes not only a child's economic status, school and home environment, self-esteem, and access to good teachers and role models who can inspire a love of learning, but also their nutritional status, which is dependent upon what foods the child is given!

No area of diet and school performance is better studied than breakfast. Studies have repeatedly shown that a good breakfast improves academic performance. For example, in a study of students in the Boston Public School System, participants who rarely ate breakfast (and that was over 60% of all participants!) had a 40% greater risk of doing poorly in math and reading. Their math and reading scores were about 25% lower than the scores of students who regularly ate breakfast, and their Grade Point Averages were also about 25% lower. Students who skip breakfast have also been shown to have more days absent from school and more days being tardy.

Research in the area of breakfast goes a step further. It shows that it's not just breakfast that counts, but the nutritional adequacy of breakfast. Calories are important, but so are slowly digesting foods rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The worst cost of sugary, refined cereals or breakfast bars is that these products will spike the child's blood sugar leaving him or her restless and hungry within little more than an hour.

Students are required to perform a wide variety of mental tasks in school, and there's good evidence to show that high-level performance of these tasks takes a nourishing diet. For example, school performance has been found to suffer if a student's intake of RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) nutrients falls below a minimum level. Researchers have found that it's important to get at least 50% of the RDA level for all RDA nutrients if school performance is to be maintained at the normal level. If students meet less than 50% of the RDA intake goals for as few as two nutrients, their school performance has been found to suffer.

Similarly, in a study exploring literacy test performance in 5th graders in Nova Scotia, Canada, students whose overall diet quality ranked in the top third of the class were about 40% less likely to fail on at least one component of the test. In fact, in terms of overall diet quality, even students in the middle third were 25% less likely to fail than students in the bottom third. Also striking was the connection between fruit and vegetable intake and literacy. Even though many individual aspects of the diet were studied, including intake of other foods like grains, as well as intake of foods rich in nutrients like vitamin C or calcium, only fruit and vegetable intake showed up as being a significant factor for lowering risk of failure on components of the literacy test.

Fat quality is another aspect of diet that seems critical. Students ages 6 to 16 turn out to have significantly poorer reading performance and poorer short-term and working memory when their diet contains too much saturated and too little polyunsaturated fat. The types of testing studied have included digit span testing, where students have been asked to repeat-both backwards and forwards-a series of numbers that increase in length as the test goes on. (This approach is part of a very widely used test called the WISC-R, or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Revised.)

Doing well in school also means having good vision, good hearing, and an ability to concentrate and think clearly. Without adequate nutritional support of the nervous system and brain, and without a good balance in overall metabolism, school success becomes less likely.

One balance that seems especially important for cognitive performance is blood sugar balance. Several studies have shown poorer performance on cognitive tests (like recalling a long list of words) in individuals with poor blood sugar control (called glycemic control). And there is some evidence that intake of sugar-laden foods or high glycemic index (high-GI) foods is associated with impairment of short-term memory.

Whether it's vegetable and fruit consumption, adequate polyunsaturated fat intake, provision of vitamins and minerals at the RDA level or emphasis on low-GI foods and healthy blood sugar control, nutrient-rich foods are perfectly matched with the science of school success. Focusing on nutrient-rich health-promoting foods that support body systems and metabolic balance, as well as focusing on helping students eat less nutrient-poor refined foods, is 100% in accord with the research that consistently reports that a diet, which provides proper nourishment, can be a key factor in school success. An organized eating plan that includes a nourishing breakfast will also pay dividends with school performance, let alone overall health and wellness.

Many people believe that some students are going to do well, others are not, and there's really nothing anyone can do about it. The research shows otherwise, and it shows that diet can make a real difference for students and their school success!

What We Can Learn From Other Countries

The blueprint for initiatives to improve health by focusing on the food we eat has already been laid out by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 2004 Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health. The WHO identified policy initiatives that should be undertaken by national authorities to help reduce the incidence of obesity and diet-related disease; they include efforts to reduce the salt, trans-fat, and sugar content of processed foods, improve food labeling, and set guidelines for foods that should or should not be advertised to children. Other countries have taken the lead in protecting the health of their citizens and provide examples of how we can follow suit:

  • In Japan, health officials check the waistlines of citizens over 40, and those considered too fat undergo diet counseling. Failure to slim down can lead to fines.
  • New Zealand has rules barring people it deems too fat from immigrating to the country.
  • Germany plans to spend $47 million on healthy eating and sports programs and to set tougher nutritional standards for school lunches.
  • Denmark limits the amount of artery-clogging trans-fatty acids in restaurant foods.
  • In an effort to prevent overweight in schoolchildren, a community approach that started in two towns in France has now expanded to 200 towns in Europe under the name "Together let's prevent obesity in children." The program encourages children to eat better and exercise more by taking such measures as building sporting facilities and playgrounds, and offering cooking workshops.
  • And of course, there are the Mediterranean countries where they are practicing a healthier way of eating, by enjoying traditional diets that feature whole unprocessed foods from nature. The Mediterranean diet, lauded for its contribution to health, features fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, olive oil, and red wine.
  • No other countries in the world allow the advertising of prescription drugs to the public except the United States and New Zealand.

Great Britain, in particular, has made great progress towards improving the food supply and educating its citizens:

  • In Great Britain, residents in some cities are being recruited to wear electronic tracking tags to calculate how much they move each day and how many calories they burn off. Daily exercisers can be rewarded with coupons and even days off from work. Britain's National Health Service is paying for at least 30,000 people to take weight-loss classes.
  • Efforts are being made by the UK's Food Standards Authority (FSA) to persuade companies to reformulate processed foods, use standardized front-of-pack symbols to communicate nutritional values, and set nutritional guidelines for limiting food advertising to children.
  • The FSA has successfully conducted a sodium reduction program in the UK and is presently conducting a similar effort to reduce saturated fat in processed food products.
  • FSA has developed a set of nutrition criteria and established a system of "traffic lights" that can be used on the fronts of food packages to communicate nutritional value. The red, amber, and green dots indicate whether a food contains high, moderate or low levels of fat, saturated fat, salt, and sugars.
  • The UK traffic light system is voluntary, but may be made mandatory in the future - despite food manufacturers' objections.
  • The UK has prohibited the broadcast advertising of low-nutrition foods on television and radio programs that appeal to children under the age of 16. American food companies like Kellogg, Coca-cola, and McDonalds must comply with this new UK law (yet they continue to expose American children to advertisements now banned in England).

How to Implement the Solutions

I have drafted the following proposals to implement the solutions to the problem of our present healthcare crisis through the legislative process, public education, and the all-important examples provided by you and your family in the White House.Through legislation:

Create food labeling laws: We can begin by following the lead of New York and California in product reformations, such as their current war on saturated fat, and combine it with efforts to eliminate artificial trans-fats from foods. Legislation providing for mandatory food labeling would help inform and educate consumers about the nutritional value of the foods they are purchasing.

Create a legal definition of "food": Defining "food" as something that is not only edible, but required to contain a certain minimal ratio of nutrients per calorie without the addition of synthetic supplements could raise the quality of school lunches. Providing guidelines as to what constitutes wholesome food would also discourage the sale of unhealthy food products, whose purchase could be further lessened by prohibiting their purchase with food stamps or through the implementation of taxes on certain products.

Prohibit broadcast advertising: The UK has passed laws prohibiting the broadcast advertising of low-nutrition foods on TV programs appealing to children. These laws have reduced the broadcast advertising of foods of low nutritional value to British children by about one-third, thus helping remedy the vast imbalance that exists between the information provided in food advertisements and the information provided in government-sponsored nutrition education programs. Both the WHO and the U.S. Institute of Medicine have recognized that food marketing can adversely affect children's health. It would behoove us to follow in their footsteps.

Through education:

Create a government-sponsored nutrition-education campaign: The effectiveness of legislation will be minimal without a strong educational campaign advocating the benefits of a healthier way of eating to motivate Americans to make better food choices. At the forefront of this campaign should be a program designed to help individuals make better decisions about healthy eating. The effect of education on healthy eating has already been made clear. Learning more about a healthier way of eating and cooking can lay the foundation for healthier citizens and less disease care.

Educating parents about healthy eating: Learning about healthy eating should begin with our children, and those lessons should begin in the home. With many parents having been raised in a generation of fast and processed foods that are convenient and are thought to be less expensive than healthful food, we need to educate parents as to the benefits of healthy eating. They need to learn which foods are health-promoting and why, and that healthy eating choices can be easy, inexpensive, and practical. This sets the stage for healthy eating to become the norm for their children.

Increasing parents' awareness of how differentiating between nutrient-rich, health-promoting foods and nutrient-poor foods that are high in calories (and can translate into weight gain) can impact children's health and ability to succeed in school will help motivate them to put healthier eating into practice in the home. So will providing comparisons of the cost of processed, refined foods versus whole foods. For example, an "economy-size" box of twenty-four 1.9 ounce single serving bowls of national brand of instant oatmeal with brown sugar flavor costs around $31.00. In contrast, organic thick, cut rolled oats can be purchased in bulk at a whole foods grocery store for about $1.37 a pound, which contains 4 cups worth of rolled oats. So, for $1.37, you can have 48 servings of organic oatmeal. Or you can pay $31.00 for 12 servings of processed oatmeal with added chemicals. Cost comparisons between numerous other processed foods, such as instant rice or canned beans and their organic, unprocessed counterparts, will reveal similar cost disparities.

Teaching children to eat healthier lays the foundation for optimal health and prevents the nutritional deficiencies related to many health conditions and chronic preventable diseases. For example, foods rich in dietary fiber, like our very affordable organic oatmeal above, help maintain healthy cholesterol levels, while a deficiency of fiber can contribute to high cholesterol levels as well as high blood sugar levels. Inexpensive omega 3-rich foods like canned salmon reduce inflammation and support brain function, while a deficiency of omega-3s in the diet can cause fatigue, depression, and joint pain. Calcium and magnesium, found not only in dairy products but in tofu and leafy greens like spinach, help maintain strong healthy bones and proper functioning of nerves and muscles, while a lack of either can result in muscular pain and spasms.

Initiate pilot programs in schools to create vegetable gardens and provide cooking classes: Children can learn more about how food is grown and how much fun it is to prepare food by government-sponsored pilot programs designed to help create vegetable gardens and provide cooking classes for kids. These programs would help children's awareness of where food comes and would be not only practical, but would lay the foundation for their future health, and would also be great fun, helping children to look forward to school! A small part of your White House vegetable garden cared for by your daughters would inspire children across America, and imagine the delight of eating the just picked vegetables they have personally grown for your family!

Improve school lunch programs: Education about healthier eating can help increase the awareness of the importance of healthier food services for children in schools. According to food experts, an increase of $1 a day on school lunches could shift cafeteria food from fast foods to freshly prepared nutrient-rich foods, an amount that could be saved many times over in terms of health-care savings. These early childhood education programs and improved school lunch programs should become a mandatory part of the school system. All our children deserve decent nourishment and need it to do their best in school. And educating children to eat well will gift them with a skill they will carry with them for a lifetime.

Promoting better healthcare through self-care:Educating individual citizens about practicing a healthy lifestyle and promoting healthy eating habits should be wrapped within a campaign to promote better healthcare through self-care. Since we are making healthy eating choices every day, this must be seen as renewed responsibility for our own health. Just as we take care of our own cars, clothing, and personal hygiene, our health has to become an arena of personal responsibility. Self-care means practicing a lifestyle of healthy eating and regular exercise, and avoiding the intake of excess amounts of fast foods, sugary, salty, and fatty foods, has been proven over and over again around the world to be the best way to a long and healthy life-a life in which we can contribute to society instead of contributing to the costs of disease care.

Education about healthier ways of cooking: A campaign for educating citizens about healthy eating should also promote healthier ways of cooking that retain the greatest number of nutrients and also produce meals that taste great. Encouraging more at-home cooking will greatly help individuals to take control of their sugar, salt, and fat intake. People should be aware that some foods are more delicate than others, and if cooked too long and on high heat, can lose not only 50-80% of their nutritional value, but their taste as well. For example, meats can cook for hours without much nutrient loss, but a delicate vegetable like spinach should be cooked for only 1 minute to retain the maximum number of nutrients and best flavor. A major reason some people do not enjoy vegetables is that they have never eaten any that were properly prepared, but instead have had only overcooked, flavorless, soggy vegetables.

Many of the cooking programs that are now available on TV focus on entertainment rather than on preparing nourishing foods. Americans need to learn that they can cook for health, quickly and easily, without spending lots of money or forgoing the aesthetics or flavor of exceptionally delicious food. Placing greater emphasis not only on what foods are healthy but how to prepare them is an essential part of a healthier way of eating.

Through examples set by the First Family

The First Family as a Role Model: Through the power of example set by the First Family in the White House, you can influence change in America's thinking about food, and you are the ideal choice to lead us by becoming the role model for a healthy eating lifestyle. You, Michelle, and your wonderful children can set the national tone about how healthy eating can impact health. You can reverse the negative image of broccoli put in place by the first President Bush and the honor given to jelly beans by President Reagan.

The power of your example has already been witnessed by Michelle's continued expression of the importance of basic nutritious foods and family meals, and in the groundbreaking of her vegetable garden, which has already been an inspiration to thousands of Americans. In fact, her praise of community vegetable gardens has increased the sale of vegetable seeds by 50%! These examples set by you and your family can be as effective as any legislation in changing the consciousness of the American public towards their focus on the relationship between food and health.

You can continue as a role model for Americans by focusing on the healthful meals provided by White House chefs committed to cooking simply from fresh local ingredients. In addition to feeding you and your family exceptionally well, your chefs can demonstrate how it is possible, even in Washington, D.C., to eat locally for much of the year, and that good food needn't be fussy nor complicated. Michelle's order to serve spinach not with cream sauce but in a more healthy style at the first State dinner was already a boost to this image.

Another idea would be to have the White House chef post daily menus on the Web, listing the farmers who supplied the food, as well as recipes. Realizing that the First Family places so much stock in healthy eating on a day-to-day basis sets a great example for the American people and provides them with ideas of what they can include in their personal menus for healthy eating.

How to Raise Money to Fund This Campaign

One idea of how to raise the money to fund this campaign would be by taxing the purchase of what will be defined as nutrient-poor, unhealthy foods and drinks. Like alcohol and tobacco, such foods are detrimental to health and contribute to the health crisis we are currently experiencing. Taxing the purchase of these foods can offset the costs in healthcare that result from their consumption as well as educating the public towards a healthier way of eating as they take on the responsibility of their own health and the health of our nation.

I urge you to make a commitment to include a campaign for a "Healthier Way of Eating" as an essential part of your universal healthcare reform package. I urge you to take strong and aggressive action to pass legislation and take measures to educate Americans on a healthier way of eating. I sincerely believe it is the only way to save millions of lives and billions of American dollars and extricate us from our current healthcare crisis. We, and countless others in and out of government, would welcome the opportunity to help you tackle this challenging problem.


George Mateljan

George Mateljan has been promoting a Healthier Way of Eating since 1970. He was the founder of Health Valley Foods. His not-for-profit George Mateljan Foundation supports the WHFoods website (, featuring nutrition education backed by the latest scientific research. Every month, about 1 million people look to the website for nutrition and cooking expertise, which has inspired thousands of readers to improve their health and also lose weight by eating healthier. His latest bestselling book, The World's Healthiest Foods, explains everything you need to know about the Healthier Way of Eating. He created over 500 quick, easy, and delicious recipes, healthiest way of cooking methods and a healthy eating plan that provides all the essential nutrients individuals require each day to help them live a healthier life.


Bazzano LA, Serdula M, and Liu S. Prevention of type 2 diabetes by diet and lifestyle modification. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Oct;24(5):310-9.

Bellisle F. Effects of diet on behaviour and cognition in children. Br J Nutr. 2004 Oct;92 Suppl 2:S227-32.

Bray GA and Popkin BM. Dietary fat intake does affect obesity! Am. J. Clinical Nutrition, Dec 1998; 68: 1157 - 1173.

Cruz NV and Bahna SL. Do foods or additive cause behavior disorders? Pediatric Annals 2006, 35(10): 744-755.

Davis K, Schoen C, Guterman S, et al. Slowing the growth of U.S. healthcare expenditures: what are the options? The Commonwealth Fund Publication No. 989, January 2007. (Available online at

DeVol R and Bedroussian A. An unhealthy America: the economic burden of chronic disease. Executive summary and research findings. 2007, The Milken Institute, Santa Monica, California.

Fierro MP. Costs of chronic diseases: what are states facing? The Council of State Governments, Lexington, KY, 2006. (Available online at

Florence MD, Asbridge M, and Veugelers PJ. Diet quality and academic performance. J Sch Health. 2008 Apr;78(4):209-15.

Fu ML, Cheng L, Tu SH, et al. Association between unhealthful eating patterns and unfavorable overall school performance in children. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Nov;107(11):1935-43.

Golan E, Steward H, Kuchler F et al. Can Low-Income Americans Afford a Healthy Diet? Amber Waves. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. 2008, 6(5): 26-34.

Greenwood CE, Kaplan RJ, Hebblewaite S et al. Carbohydrate-Induced Memory Impairment in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care, Jul 2003; 26: 1961 - 1966.

King, DE, Mainous, AG, Carnemolla, M, et al. Adherence to Healthy Lifestyle Habits in USA Habits,Am. J. Medicine (2009) June 122(6),528-534.

Kleinman RE, Hall S, Green H, et al. Diet, breakfast, and academic performance in children. Ann Nutr Metab. 2002;46 Suppl 1:24-30.

Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, et al. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005 May;105(5):743-60.

Thompson WG, Cook DA, Clark MM, et al. Treatment of Obesity. Mayo Clin. Proc., Jan 2007; 82: 93 - 102.

Wang Y, Beydoun MA, Liang L, et al. Will All Americans Become Overweight or Obese? Estimating the Progression and Cost of the US Obesity Epidemic. Obesity (2008) 16 10, 2323-2330.

Willett WC, Koplan JP, Nugent R, et al. Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes. Chapter 44 in: Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries (2nd Edition). Jamison DT, Breman LG, Measham AR et al, Eds. Disease Control Priorities Project, Washington, D.C., April 2006.

World Health Organization. Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Report of a Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation, 2003 WHO Technical Report Series 916, WHO Geneva.

Zhang J, Herbert JR, and Muldoon MF. Dietary Fat Intake Is Associated with Psychosocial and Cognitive Functioning of School-Aged Children in the United St

No comments: