Putting the informed choice on the menu

Diabetes    Health literacy

AS THE DIABETES epidemic spirals out of control and personal responsibility declines, our generation and the ones that follow it are destined for a health catastrophe the likes of which the world has never experienced. All of this is occurring in spite of our having access to the best research on the subject, the best care, and the most advanced understanding of the causes of disease. Why is the incidence of diabetes not slowing?

Our society supports and promotes free choice. I agree that we should give everyone the choice to eat whatever they want, and in whichever quantity they choose. But by and large, people are unable to make the correct decisions because, when it comes to food and exercise, they are not aware that the choices they make can be as destructive as the excess consumption of alcohol or the improper use of drugs.

People are not presented with options that help to can reduce or eliminate the progression of the insidious disease that we call diabetes. Their decisions are detrimental because they’re unaware of the consequences. When people cannot access the information they need to make an informed choice, or are not encouraged to take responsibility for educating themselves, it becomes easy for them to fall into bad habits and lose self-control.

In recent years, our government has taken steps to warn us of the dangers of many things that we’re exposed to regularly. It has legislated that food producers must include the calorie count and ingredients on packaged food. Restaurants must list on the menu the calories contained in each dish. Labels are put on cigarettes identifying them as bad for your health and warning of possible side effects, and all cigarette advertising has been removed from television. Alcohol can’t be purchased unless you have surpassed the age deemed appropriate by government.

But there’s something missing from the list. Why has diabetes, one of the top three causes of death worldwide, not reached this level of importance? It is the fastest-growing disease and costs us billions in treatment – let alone the soft cost attributed to lifestyle and occupation restrictions. We have a runaway health disaster that must be addressed more quickly than any legislation could be put in place.

In the 60s and 70s, education was used to curtail the smoking epidemic. This approach was taken for virtually every medium. It worked in that it slowed down the use of tobacco, but it took decades to truly see its effects. The clear difference in smoking and poor eating habits is that one is a habit, promoted by peer pressure, and one is life sustaining: its consumption is vital for every human on the planet.

We are sorely lacking a clear and concise education platform that supports healthy eating at all ages.  We must identify food groups as good or bad, and stop tip-toeing around the issue. Our health care system is on the verge of a financial catastrophe due to a self-inflicted disease: it is time to provide the education needed to force an understanding on those who seem oblivious, or ambivalent, to the consequences.  If we have already made the decision to provide assistance once the damage is done, then surely we can be involved at an earlier stage. The answers will not be found in government restrictions, as some suggest; this became obvious during the prohibition era.

Today, the typical goal for overweight individuals is simply to lose weight. This is good, but unsustainable. Gym memberships and gym participation explodes during January thanks to New Year Resolutions, only to drop off precipitously over the subsequent 60-day period. Those that are obese and at risk think that they can take the weight off in months, somehow forgetting that the weight gain took years. And if the diet isn’t working within days, many will abandon it. The key here is not crash-dieting or fad-following, but lifestyle, and understanding that cause and effect is real, not merely a concept.

We need to educate the American public, so they can be truly free to choose. Otherwise, people will continue to harm themselves through poor eating habits and lack of exercise. But time is running out. America is killing itself and action is required now.

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