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The Cardiologist's Wife - The Impact of Food Costs
Mar 12, 2019

Many of my posts are dedicated to food: recipes, making better choices, nutritional information, how the food you eat affects your health for better or worse. Food makes a huge impact on your pocketbook so you want to get the best bang for your buck. Indirectly, food also makes a huge impact on the federal budget as nearly $1 in $5 is spent on healthcare in the entire U.S. economy while $1 in $4 is spent on medicare and medicaid*. The double threat to the economy and our national health should make this a major concern to everyone.

Diet related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s are major contributors to these expenses. For example, obesity related conditions are estimated to cost $1.4 TRILLION annually. In Arkansas alone, obesity related diseases claim 10.6% of the state’s medicaid spending. Minorities and the poor often have the worst diets due to lack of access to quality food that includes fruits and vegetables and a lack of money to afford better food. This leads to a vicious cycle of poor health, poor school performance, being unemployed or underemployed and poverty. This in turn creates an economic drain on society as a whole due to rising health care costs, lack of a healthy workforce and increased poverty. There is no one culprit to point out as the bad guy. The overall U.S. food system, from government farm subsidies, farms, supermarkets, food companies to restaurants, contribute to our dietary problems as well as a lack of individual education on proper nutrition.

The situation may be changing. Probably not many of us realize that in 2018 Congress took a series of actions that are the first steps in recognizing that the blame for America’s obesity epidemic and poor eating habits should be shared among many key players in the food chain, not just placed on the individual consumer.

In January 2018, the House created the bipartisan “Food is Medicine” working group whose sole purpose is to find innovations in nutrition policy to improve overall health of Americans and reduce diet related health care costs. Congress further instructed the U.S. Government Accountability Office to perform a comprehensive assessment of all federal policies related to food, chronic disease and health care costs. The GAO is to concentrate specifically on evidence linking diet to chronic diseases like diabetes, the resulting federal and state health care costs and any strategies to reduce these risks and costs.

The 2018 Farm bill also included several important provisions under the SNAP program to promote healthier eating - an expansion of the fruit and vegetable subsidy program, a produce prescription program and a nutrition education program. The produce prescriptions program, versions of which are already offered by some private insurance programs, allow doctors to prescribe subsidized purchases of fruits and vegetables in addition to medications in order to promote healthier food choices.

These are just a few steps the government is taking to not only cut back on rapidly rising health care costs but to also improve the overall health of Americans. As always, I encourage you to take control over your own health by educating yourself and incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

*It is helpful to understand Medicaid and Medicare better. Medicare dollars come from money withheld from your paycheck each pay period and matched dollar for dollar by your employer - 1.45% from each. Medicare provides health insurance for those over 65 or with a disability, no matter your income. Medicaid is funded by the federal government and each state to provide health insurance for those on a very low income. States do not have to participate but all do at this time.

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