Wednesday, May 6, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Preventing Diabetes and Other Expensive Diseases

“What struck me was that, time after time, much of what I was seeing was preventable. This is the great tragedy of the health of our nation right now.”      -- Dr. Vivek Murthy, the new U.S. Surgeon General, speaking about his experiences as a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston

The fact is, physicians in the U.S. are paid to treat your diseases, not prevent them.  According to Dr. David Agus, a regular contributor to CBS, the U.S. health care system is “not incentivized to prevent disease.”  Instead, the system pays doctors to treat your diabetes or your cancer.   

It has always been ironic to me that we call it a “health care system” when in fact we have a “disease care system.”

Think about diabetes.  What if doctors prescribed fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains instead of insulin?  What if they said, “Take this prescription for real food and go to your local farmacy?”  Instead they say, “Take this prescription for drugs and go to your local pharmacy?”  What if people received education about how the added sugars, fats, and sodium in processed foods are contributing to a nation of obese Americans?  What if we all said to our doctors, “I will pay you to keep me OUT of the hospital.” 

Another fact to consider:  type 2 diabetes is controllable, reversible, and best of all, preventable.  It is also an incredibly expensive disease, for the individual diagnosed with diabetes, for their family, for their employer and for our country.  In 2012, the estimated economic burden of diabetes in the U.S. was $245 Billion (yes, billion).  This is a 41% increase from the $174 Billion spent in 2007.  A 41% increase in 5 years.  Did your salary increase 41% in 5 years?  I didn’t think so. 

There are an estimated 86 million Americans with prediabetes, 9 out of 10 of whom don’t know they have prediabetes.  Prediabetes means your blood sugar levels are higher than normal, and if you do nothing to change your eating habits, your weight if you are overweight or obese, fitness routines, stress levels, or amount of good sleep, then you will most likely progress to a diabetes diagnosis.  People with diabetes have 2-3 times higher health care costs than people without diabetes.  The pipeline is loaded so that physicians and hospitals will make a killing (no pun intended) off of your diseases. 

Improving health literacy is an essential component of learning how NOT to get diabetes.  We do a lot of work in the Growing Healthy Kids project to educate people about controlling and reserving diabetes, but more importantly, about preventing diabetes.   A favorite part of my work is when someone attending an education or healthy cooking program says, “Now I get it!  I can do this!” 

Most foods in grocery stores have nutrition facts labels.  We can choose to read the labels and then decide if we want to buy something, once we learn how to identify the added sugars, fats, sodium, food dyes, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners.  Most Americans eat too much sugar and too many refined grains (all bad carbohydrates) and not enough vegetables and whole grains (the good carbs). No wonder America's children are overweight, obese, and sick.  

Preventing disease is a priority for my family.  Is it a priority for your family?  Do you know how to improve your family’s health literacy?   Please email your questions about diabetes and other preventable diseases to

Don’t forget to listen to “Pop Up Health with Nancy Heinrich” on, my weekly interview with Chef Michael Glatz!  

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich
Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.