By Dariush Mozaffarian
The national debate on health care is moving into a new, hopefully bipartisan phase.
The fundamental underlying challenge is cost—the massive and ever-rising price of care which drives nearly all disputes, from access to benefit levels to Medicaid expansion.
So far, policymakers have tried to reduce costs by tinkering with how care is delivered. But focusing on care delivery to save money is like trying to reduce the costs of house fires by focusing on firefighters and fire stations.
A more natural question should be: What drives poor health in the U.S., and what can be done about it?
We know the answer. Food is the number-one cause of poor health in America. As a cardiologist and public health scientist, I have studied nutrition science and policy for 20 years. Poor diet is not just about individual choice, but about the systems that make eating poorly the default for most Americans.
If we want to cut down on disease and achieve meaningful health care reform, we should make it a top nonpartisan priority to address our nation’s nutrition crisis.
Food and Health
Our dietary habits are the leading driver of death and disability, causing an estimated 700,000 deaths each year. Heart disease, stroke, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, immune function, brain health—all are influenced by what we eat.
For example, our recent research estimated that poor diet causes nearly half of all U.S. deaths due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. There are almost 1,000 deaths from these causes alone, every day.
By combining national data on demographics, eating habits and disease rates with empirical evidence on how specific foods are linked to health, we found that most of problems are caused by too few healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and too much salt, processed meats, red meats and sugary drinks.