Polls repeatedly show us one of the most important issues in the presidential election is health. Unfortunately, much of the health debate is being focused on health care, when analyses show us healthy living is the real key to curbing our spiraling health care costs.
A decade ago healthy living might have been seen as a personal choice: Do you walk to work, eat enough greens, avoid smoking? Michael Pollan's groundbreaking books on the food production stream started to demonstrate how governmental policy has a strong influence on individual choices about healthy living. When the government subsidizes sugar corn crops but not broccoli, our stores get filled with cheap corn syrup-infused food-like products, and our eating patterns change.
Healthy choices are remarkably influenced by pricing. Increasingly evidence suggests that while offering free cessation is one way to help people quit smoking, raising the price of cigarettes is similarly effective. While many of us want to be as healthy as possible, public policies help pave the way or put up fences to having the easiest choice be the healthiest choice. For example, while I might feed my kids vegetarian, real foods at home, I can't expect them to get that same level of nutrition in schools. It's certainly easier and cheaper to just pay for the school lunch, but it's clearly not the healthier choice.
As a public health professional, the last three years have been exceptionally rewarding. For the first time, I am witness to our government taking major steps to finally invest in our healthy living. In simplest terms, the government is trying to make sure it supports policies that don't stand in the way of each American being as healthy as possible.
One major strategy for this is the creation of a government-wide National Prevention and Health Promotion Council, which for the first time includes the heads of 17 agencies and offices, not just the Department of Health and Human Services. Now we have the Department of Transportation acknowledging that biking and walking are also important modes of transportation that must receive support. We have the Department of Agriculture examining how their subsidies reinforce our sugar culture. We have the Department of Education examining what children are taught about health, whether they can bike to school, and whether school lunches look like the way we eat at home, or a kid's meal at fast food restaurant.
An even more fascinating addition to governmental health policy in recent years is the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a slowly increasing pot of funding spread to states to spur wellness activities, particularly wellness-focused policies. The potential economic benefits of this investment are clear: A study by the non-partisan Trust for America's Health reports every dollar we invest in healthy living returns a $5.60 reduction in health costs over five years.
Just like we know at home, healthy living makes great sense.
So where do Romney and Obama stand on healthy living?
Obama spearheaded the legislation that created these historic initiatives, the Affordable Care Act.
Romney has vowed to overturn the Affordable Care Act his first day in office and has not spoken about any healthy living initiatives that might replace it. This matches the Republican position: According to Trust for America's Health, Republicans have launched about 30 attacks on the Prevention Fund since it was first put into law.
That's your choice.
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