Recently, I read a beautifully written blog entry on The Huffington Post by Bill Gates, Sr., who wrote: "Young people are our most powerful agents of change." He said he is encouraged "by the future they are building for themselves and generations to come."
I want to believe those sentiments. But the evidence is clear we are leaving the world a shambles for the next generation. Not a world where the next generation can grow and accomplish the amazing things we know they are capable of, but rather one in which they must perform the Herculean task of cleaning up the mess we have created for both human health and the environment.
As the founder of the Next Generation Choices Foundation, known to most as lesscancer.org, I wanted to provide our young people a future without cancer. I know firsthand how cancer can ruin lives, families and finances. The last thing we would ever wish for the next generation is more cancer.
Sadly though, the World Health Organization reports that today cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for 8.2 million deaths in 2012, and that expected annual cancer diagnoses will rise from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million within the next two decades.
Where is the hope for the next generation in those grim numbers?
If cancer is preventable (meaning its prevalence can be reduced by making lifestyle and/or environment changes, excluding hereditary cancers), then how and why are we still struggling to reverse the increasing incidences of cancer?
What's the deal?
The deal is that money always trumps human health and the environment -- the latter two being unshared priorities for too many lawmakers and corporations.
We as a country continue to market to at-risk populations to sell products that we know not only increase cancer risks, but in some cases are known to cause cancer.
We would rather pay a pop star 50 million dollars to endorse a drink with the potential as a health risk than invest $50 million into making the drink risk-free.
We market products known to be unhealthy to vulnerable populations, including children, the illiterate and the poor. And society seems just fine with that, because it's more important to be able to do what you want than to be stewards for the next generation.
We now grow food in laboratories -- food that does not nurture our bodies or prevent illness but rather fills bank accounts.
We use personal care products with little knowledge or understanding of their ingredients.
We are a country that has spent the last 30 years trying to reverse trends for smoking, only to slam the brakes on our progress as we now start marketing unregulated e-cigarettes, the health consequences of which we do not yet completely understand.
All in the name of freedom?
More like invisible handcuffs.
If we are ever going to prevent cancer we need to put our heads together. We must share priorities and do what we know is best for human health.
It's important to understand that our future holds more cancer, not less cancer.
It's going to take all of us to make a change.
What can you do?
Vote with your pocketbooks: Do not support corporations that do not have your children's health and future in mind.
Know the products you bring into your homes and understand what's in the food you put on your table -- it makes a difference. Get informed. If you do not understand the labels on the products, or the products themselves, then do not buy them. "Legal" does not translate to "safe," or "good for you."
Do not vote for candidates that are not out there now working to protect your children's health, and ensuring that they will inherit a world with less cancer.
Advocate for yourself and your family.
If we are truly interested in leaving a world with less cancer for the next generation, now is the time to start living differently.