We can proclaim the joy of eating healthy, and meditate our stress away. But when it's time to take action to change policies that affect the health of millions, the response is: Who me?
Since 2007 when I covered "Sicko" for HuffPost, I've paid close attention to peoples' mindsets around health. When Mark Hyman, M.D. offers health recommendations, thousands read them and comment. But when he connects the dots on healthy nutrition and social policy as he did this week-- a coupla dozen respond.
Why do we praise healthy food, but never get around to calling our Congressman to let him know our wishes for the Food Safety bill? Why do those of us who consider ourselves 'health-empowered' sometimes feel 'don't go there' when it comes to health-related social policy?
For 30 years or so, integrative health practitioners have promoted the foundational role of healthy nutrition. Collectively, these health pioneers have raised the health-awareness of millions of people, and spent millions of dollars to train doctors and conduct studies proving common-sense health truths.
So many of us have improved our health following their excellent advice. That's a huge win, and a vital first step in creating health empowerment.
But it's still nearly impossible for many millions more suffering from weight gain and chronic disease to enact these evidence-based recommendations. Why?
You know why. Because the massive power of established industries works against their attempts. These industries spend billions on products and promote behaviors that undermine health. Then they sell us on them.
And here's the deal: We enable these industries when we do nothing to stop this cycle. It's one thing to cultivate your own garden, but it's another to wear blinders to what is happening to our society and the earth. Why does it go against the grain for the health empowered to ask for social change that benefits public health, as well as take care of numero uno?
One factor is certain beliefs we share that we might wish to re-examine:
Belief 1. goes like this: "I have total inner freedom to change (fill in the blank--my diet, my lifestyle, my food purchases, my inner serenity, beliefs, power of attraction--whatever) but I don't need to address the big, bad social factors out there."
Belief 2. "What's important" is the personal health transformation "I make as an individual." If I focus on troubling societal factors, I am amplifying them because I manifest what I pay attention to.
Belief 3. When "enough of us" transform, suddenly we will have reached critical mass for a corresponding shift of society and the earth.
Belief 4. All forms of social breakdown we observe are good because they are leading to the shift.
I don't lay claim to having a crystal ball concerning matters of such import. But what I can see is that, as a society, we've made some pretty unhealthy choices through enabling certain industries. And if there's any way short of a massive social upheaval, (the outcome of which is unknown), to effect a change, I would welcome it.
Here's a brief list of some the practices we've failed to address. If you feel overwhelmed or despairing while reading it, take a few calming breaths:
- Undermining the integrity of food, water, earth, and the seeds of life -- through agricultural, and food industrial practices, (such as creating a monopoly of patented seeds that do not germinate and harbor pesticides within.)
- Enacting inhumane treatment, and health endangering practices on livestock animals, (such as crowding animals, and feeding them animal parts, as seen in the film, "Food Inc.")
- Allowing 80,000 toxic chemicals in consumer products, agriculture, and industry without safety studies or public health protections, as detailed by the non-profit, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a nationwide coalition of environmental, and health groups.
- Permitting a profit-driven medical system to set the health science research agenda, and aggressively promote high cost treatments with many harmful effects, while suppressing low harm approaches, as Dr. Andrew Weil details in his book, "Why Our Health Matters," highlighted in this blog and this one, too.
- Through governmental laxity or under-regulation, allowing oil and gas companies to contaminate nationwide water supplies with unregulated toxic chemicals, as detailed in the film, Gasland, creating long-term, uncalculated, negative health, food, and economic impacts
- Choosing short-term energy consumption over the stability of earth's climate
Now before you give in to overwhelm and decide that you can't possibly tackle any of the above, let me ask you a question, or two:
What individual health choices will render you immune to the effects of all of that?
Is your zen-like equipoise sufficient for you to happily endure all the potential consequences of these societal choices?
Without a crystal ball, it seems likely that America's health is going to continue to trend downhill unless all of us get together and do something about it. So, my health-empowered cohorts, let's develop some chutzpah, and step up from sharing health tips to demanding social change.
Here's my three point health plan:
1. If you care about health, expand your concern from your health to everyone's health.
2. Vote for the legislators who put our health first!
3. Every day, after you've tweeted about your green drink, or today's affirmation, vote and email your Congressman about a health issue that you care about.
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Follow Alison Rose Levy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AlisonRoseLevy