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When I was a kid, there was no scary cow called DIABEETUS.

July 10, 2009

On July 2, 2009, Robert Kenner was on the Daily Show.   Here’s the clip:

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Okay, so I can get on board with a few of Kenner’s points.  Ie. that food is severely processed, that we are eating MORE food with LESS nutrition.  But Kenner uses some statistics that stand as his hammer-home-point, and well, I’m not sure they are nothing more than a scare tactic.  I didn’t even try to get it word for word from his interview with Jon, so I found it elsewhere on the web.  From the article,  Interview: “Food, Inc.” Director Robert Kenner, Food Industry Whistleblower:

» HalogenLife: This seems to have hobbled the system you’re describing.
» Robert Kenner: Here’s an interesting thought. Less is spent on food than ever before this century. But there’s a high invisible cost. When I was a kid, 18 percent of the average income was spent on food and five percent on health care. Now, those numbers are staggeringly reversed. We spend 18 percent on health care and only nine percent on our food. That means we’re creating an increase in expenses for our health care system because our food is cheaper and unhealthier, which makes us sicker. And the people who are growing vegetables in their yards are still paying for this system whether they like it or not. It became clear that this is a very expensive system even though we’re inclined to not give up our cheap food. It’s not a sustainable way of life. My hope is to be able to talk about how we can change this system and create one that will feed us properly. (emphasis added.)

The question that I asked when I heard Kenner quote those statistics was, are food and health costs required to have a completely dependent relationship?  I’m not so sure they do.  As always, correlation does not imply causation, right?  First, when were you a kid, Mr. Kenner?  What year/s specifically?  Unfortunately, Googling Robert Kenner did not give me your age, but can it be possible that when you were a kid, probably in the 60s, health care costs were simply less?  And, not because of fatty fat from bad food?  Here’s some info from kaiserEDU.org:

What is driving health care costs?
Controlling health care expenditures requires a solid understanding of the factors that are driving the growth in spending.  Some of the major factors to consider are:  

  • Intensity of services – The nature of health care in the U.S. has changed dramatically over the past century with longer life spans and greater prevalence of chronic illnesses. This has placed tremendous demands on the health care system, particularly an increased need for treatment of ongoing illnesses and long-term care services such as nursing homes.
  • Prescription drugs and technology – Spending on prescription drugs and the major advancements in health care technology have been cited as major contributors to the increase in overall health spending. After six consecutive years of slowing growth, prescription drug spending growth accelerated in 2006, due in large part to the implementation of the Medicare Part D benefit. The effect of spending on technology, such as devices, is harder to estimate.  Some analysts state that the availability of more expensive, state-of-the-art drugs and technological services fuels health care spending not only because the development costs of these products must be recouped by industry but also because they generate consumer demand for more intense, costly services even if they are not necessarily cost-effective.
  • Aging of the population – Health expenses rise with age and as the baby boomers are now in their middle years, some say that caring for this growing population has raised costs. This trend will continue as the baby boomers will begin qualifying for Medicare in 2011 and many of the costs are shifted to the public sector.   

  • Administrative costs – 7% of health care expenditures are for administrative costs (e.g. marketing, billing) and this portion is much lower in the Medicare program (<2%), which is operated by the federal government. [4]  Some argue that the mixed public-private system creates overhead costs that are fueling health care spending. 
So, according to that list, a large portion of the expense is due to a population that is LIVING LONGER.  And, don’t forget administrative costs.  Now, of course, those people living longer may have poor health due to the fatty fat bad food, true.  BUT, no one is exempt from getting old, and part of getting old is falling apart.  Sorry, but you’re insane if you think your 30 year old body will remain the same until you’re in the casket.  But, thanks to another article, 
Food Inc: Michael Pollan and Friends Reveal the Food Industry’s Darkest Secrets, we understand Kenner’s biggest fear:  DIABEETUS.
 TL: To me one of the shocking numbers in the film were the figures for diabetes, which you mentioned — 1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 and 1 in 2 who are minorities — are there people in the health community who are drawing these connections?

RK: Oh yeah, that’s why we can’t have health care reform without fixing that. Diabetes is going to be so expensive. I really hope that we battle this idea of elitism, that people say that the can only afford bad food. That’s why I think that family in the film was so important, because we have people who have a hard time paying for healthier, less-processed food, but meanwhile, they are now paying for it in their health care costs. The invisible costs are becoming very real for them, and how many people in that community have diabetes is astounding. They could not believe I didn’t know someone without Type 2 Diabetes.

My only response to this scare tactic: you can’t escape your genetics.  You can’t escape what would happen to your body no matter what “lifestyle changes” you make.

And finally, another statistic.  Because Kenner is not talking about concrete numbers, he’s only talking about percentages of income.  So, take note of the information from this article, Despite Higher Food Prices, Percent of U.S. Income Spent on Food Remains Constant:

Although food prices rose at an accelerated rate in 2007, Americans overall still spent less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food. Between 1970 and 2005, the percentage of disposable income spent on all food fell from 13.9 to 9.8 percent on average. This drop occurred because prices of other consumer goods outpaced the price of food, and incomes rose at a faster rate than food prices. Disposable personal income increased 5.7 percent in 2007, after increasing 5.9 percent in 2006. (emphasis added.)

So, hmmm….maybe things aren’t so clearly black and white as Kenner’s cow and bar-code imply.  I truly believe that we should be placing more value and importance on the food that we eat, however, we should not be scared into thinking all food is going to kill us.  Also, more importantly, we need to be very concerned about the inequality of food.  Thankfully, Kenner did touch on this, stating that 1 billion of the 6 aren’t so thrilled with their food prospects.  It’s so crucial to realize there is so much more to food issues than the concerns of white, middle-class people who are scared of the fatty fat and diabeetus.

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