Tag Archives: cost of health care

Why Salads Cost More than Big Macs

One of the major issues facing health care today is the cost which Americans must pay in order to obtain basic care.  Then the care they receive does nothing to address the problem they actually have.  For example, if a person walks into their doctor’s office with high cholesterol, they are almost always giving a statin medication to artificially lower their cholesterol.  The reason their cholesterol is high is not because of a statin deficiency.  It’s because of poor diet and lack of exercise.  Those causes, sadly, are hardly ever addressed.

The cost of this type of health care, according to some experts, is going to bankrupt this country if things are not changed and changed soon.  I have written many times about prevention and how that is the true key to reducing overall health costs in this country.  I absolutely believe that is true.  However, what if our government spent money a little differently in the mean time to reduce the cost of healthy foods?  Maybe that would put a dent in our rising obesity epidemic?

I can’t tell you how many people tell me that it’s just too darn expensive to eat healthy.  While I believe some people like to use that as a convenient excuse not to eat correctly, I believe most people have a hard time affording some healthy foods.  Just the other day I was at a local farmer’s market and one 3 oz. bag of shelled walnuts was $6!  A $6 snack? And a small one at that!

Often times fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds are among the most expensive items at the grocery store.  The cheap stuff includes low grades or less desirable cuts of  meat, dairy and all grain products.  Want to know why?  Below is a graphic of what our government chooses to subsidize and in what percentage of the whole. (Original article can be found here.)

Subsidized America

Of course lobbying plays a major role in what gets subsidized, but that doesn’t change the above graphic.  You’ll notice that vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes are subsidized the least while the meat, dairy and grain industry make out like bandits.

Meat is an essential part of our diets.  We need animal protein.  It is the only complete source of protein.  It also contains healthy fats that are vital to survival.  When consumed properly is the absence of abundant carbohydrate, it is perfectly healthy.  Do not let mainstream medicine talk you into being a vegetarian.  Eliminating meat is a big mistake. That being said, their piece of the pie should not be so significantly higher than the other important part of our diet – fruits, veggies and nuts and seeds.

The grain industry gets the second largest chunk.  The current government recommendations on the right in the diagram above more than make up for the lack of subsidy.  Our government recommends that everyone eat 11 servings of grains per day.  And where has this gotten us?  It has lead us straight into an obesity epidemic.  It’s the carbohydrate consumption that is out of control in this country.  If people were eating too much high quality meat, I doubt we’d see the problems we are seeing today.

McDonald’s, whose product’s success relies mostly of meat and refined grain, are okay with the current subsidization I am sure.  Let’s face it, when you buy a Big Mac for $.99 you aren’t buying it for the iceberg lettuce or the soft tomato they put on it.

At the very top of the subsidy pyramid are vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes.  They account for just 2.28% of government subsidy.  They get less money than sugar and alcohol do.  See a problem with that?  However, does this translate to higher prices you ask?  Check out the diagram below.

The cost of fresh fruit and vegetables has clearly gone up while most other foods have remained the same or decreased.

This illustrates very well just how much subsidizing food products can have an effect on price.  While fruits and vegetables have increased in price, soda has plummeted.  This is a major issue, especially considering that soda is a major contributor to preventable disease in the United States.

With this knowledge it is easy to see that a salad could easily cost just as much if not more than a whole meal at McDonald’s.  The soda, burger and bun all get larger subsidies than the salad that you didn’t buy.

Health care cost are at an all time high and the complexities of the problem are astounding.  I think the above is also a large part of the problem.  While senators and congressmen are elected to impart the will of the people, they rarely do.  In order to get elected it takes a lot of money.  Big business has a lot of money.  Put 2 and 2 together.  Special interest groups control political action (or lack thereof) and people suffer with expensive salads and cheap Big Macs.

My advice?  While good food might be more expensive to eat, it’s worth it in the end.  You might get away with eating a poor diet for years and years while your young, but it catches up with us as we age.  Don’t short change yourself in terms of your diet.  It only ends up costing you more in the end.

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As your health care premiums rise, insurance companies make money off fast food

This is a post from the Time wellness blog.  There is a link to it below the article.  Health insurance companies should not own stock in fast food restaurants.  It’s a total conflict of interest.

Time Article

McDonald's and other fast food chains get support from, who else, health insurance companies.

Health insurance companies in the U.S., Canada and Europe hold nearly $1.9 billion in fast-food company stock, according to a new study from researchers at Harvard Medical School and the department of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance. In the study, published this week in the American Journal of Public Health researchers examined major insurance companies’ stock holdings with five leading, publicly traded fast food chains: McDonald’s, Burger King, Jack in the Box, Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Taco Bell, and others), and the Wendy’s/Arby’s Group. They found that, as of June 11, 2009, major health insurers owned $1.88 billion in fast-food stock, representing 2.2% of the companies’ total public holdings.

While some of the insurance companies have disputed the accuracy of these figures, the researchers found that U.S.-based insurance providers Prudential Financial, Massachusetts Mutual and Northwestern Mutual owned $355.5 million, $366 million and $422 million respectively in fast-food stock as of last June, with Northwestern Mutual representing the largest fast-food stock holding of any insurance company included in the study. ING, the insurance provider based in the Netherlands, held $406.1 million in these stocks. Canadian insurance provider Manulife held $146.1 million worth of fast-food stock. Those numbers, according to the study, were based on data from Yahoo! Finance from June 11 of last year.

The study authors argue that these findings show a disconcerting disregard among insurance companies for the a growing understanding of how the fast food industry is “increasingly understood to negatively impact public health.” Though they concede that fast food products can of course be consumed responsibly, the researchers emphasize that “the marketing and sale of products by fast food companies is done in a manner that undermines the public health,” and that having the very organizations that provide health insurance support these fast-food chains indicates corporate irresponsibility. As study author Dr. J. Wesley Boyd told the Wall Street Journal health blog:

“They’re profiting directly off the people who eat fast food, and if that leads to obesity or cardiovascular disease, they’ll charge you more for premiums if you have some of those conditions… They’re making money in either case.”

Health insurers should be “held to a higher standard” Boyd and colleagues argue before presenting two means of achieving that loftier standing. Insurance companies can either “divest themselves of holdings in fast food companies as well as other industries that have a clearly negative health impact,” they suggest, or they can use their ownership as leverage to force fast-food chains to adopt “practices consistent with widely accepted public healthy principles.”

The researchers concede that there are a few logical explanations for why health insurance providers might hold fast-food stock—to offset financial liability “associated with their policyholders consuming fast food,” due to a lack of understanding of the potential negative public health impact of excessive fast food consumption, or even simply due to a lack of communication between departments. Yet none of these explanations let the insurers of the hook, they argue. “If insurers are to play a greater part in the health care delivery system they ought to be held to a higher standard of corporate responsibility,” they write. “This responsibility includes aligning all o their resources—including financial investments—in ways that improve health or, at the very least, do not harm it.”

Dr. Court’s Comments

This is an obvious conflict of interest.  It is also another reason health premiums are so expensive.  The health insurance industry is helping fund the very industry that is making people sick!  It’s outrageous.

These are the very same companies that will charge higher premiums if you gain weight or cancel your policy if you cost them too much money.

Just the other day I had a patient come in and tell me she had been dropped by her insurance company because she had “reached her lifetime cap” in terms of spending.  That cap by the way was $1 million.  This was and continues to be a very sick woman, but the insurance company does not care.  All they know is that she is costing them too much money.

Apparently these insurance companies see nothing wrong with investing in fast food though.  Why don’t they invest in tobacco companies too?  There really is no difference.  A lifetime of smoking is not any worse for you than a lifetime of eating fast food.

There are plenty of other ways to invest the large amounts of money that insurance companies make every year.  Investing that money in fast food companies only makes your premiums higher.  It’s like the local police force supplying the drug dealers with cash. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

The insurance company will be the first to raise your premiums for eating at fast food chains.  Of course they don’t know when you actually eat there, but they do require you to have regular physicals.  If your cholesterol goes up, if your weight increases or any other health marker changes negatively, you can expect an increase in the amount of money you pay them.  They’ll turn around and invest that money back into the very problem that is plaguing society.

Fast food companies will say that their food can be eaten as part of a healthy diet. I do not agree and their marketing is designed to get you to eat at their chain as often as possible.  They’d like nothing more than for you to eat every meal at their restaurant.  However, doing this is extremely detrimental to your health.

Obesity costs this country billions each year.  The insurance companies make billions off high premiums and denying care at every turn possible.  With their profits they invest irresponsibly in companies that are playing a significant roll in the  high cost of health care in this country.  In my opinion this should be illegal.

They have the right to invest their money, don’t get me wrong.  They should be investing it in areas that improve health, not destroy it.

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Filed under Diet, Public Health