New York Times food writer Mark Bittman deserves kudos for drawing a straight line between the bitter budget fight in Congress and a major source of the nation’s growing tide of red ink.
In his April 14 column, titled “How to Save a Trillion Dollars”, he includes this sobering comment by pediatrician David Ludwig, M.D., author of Ending the Food Fight:
“… the $4 trillion that the Republicans want cut over a decade is about the same as the projected costs of diabetes over that same period.” (Bittman M 2011)
And, as Bittman notes, the American Heart Association editorial board estimates costs in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease “will triple by 2030, to more than $800 billion annually. Throw in about $276 billion of what they call ‘real indirect costs,’ like productivity, and you have over a trillion.” (Bittman M 2011)
He adds that within 10 years, diabetes will cost Americans about $500 billion a year, even though it’s almost always preventable with healthy diets and moderate exercise.
A very substantial portion of heart and diabetes care costs are borne by taxpayers, since both diseases occur most frequently among the retired and the poor, who are served by Medicare and Medicaid respectively.
Of course, the remaining healthcare costs not borne by U.S taxpayers come out of the pockets of companies and individuals, putting a drag on the economy while limiting personal choices and retirement savings.
Bittman made that larger economic point as well: “For the first time in history, lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and others kill more people than communicable ones. Treating these diseases — and futile attempts to ‘cure’ them — costs a fortune, more than one-seventh of our GDP.”
Interactive “American-diets-over-time” chart paints unhealthy picture
We just came across a nifty, interactive diagram that puts America’s grossly imbalanced diet on display in a graphic, disturbing way ... and serves to underscore Mark Bittman’s points.
The diagram shows which food groups have provided the average American’s calories, every year from 1970 through 2008.
The chart presents annual calorie-consumption numbers by food type.
It’s based on USDA data on the volumes of various foods produced, and the amounts lost due to spoilage and waste, to provide a best estimate of the foods actually consumed.
Usefully, the diagram includes the numbers of calories provided by added fats and added sugars.
As you slide the line from left to right, you see American diets getting less healthy over time … with more and more calories coming from added sugars, added fats, and grains … most of which were would have been consumed in the form starchy, nutrient-poor refined flour.
We’re impressed with the visual impact of this diagram, created as part of a partnership between Civil Eats and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 course on food reporting.
The diagram is introduced by journalist Andrea Jezovit, who notes that it shows calorie intake rose 23.3 percent from 1970 to 2008. Ouch!
Bittman M. How to Save a Trillion Dollars. The New York Times. April 12, 2011. Accessed at http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/04/12/how-to-save-a-trillion-dollars/
Jezovit A. Where Do Americans Get Their Calories? (Infographic). Civil Eats. Accessed at http://civileats.com/2011/04/05/where-do-americans-get-their-calories-infographic/