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T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. Headshot

Health Care Made Real, Obama's Real Change

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Dear Mr. President,

I hear that the health care cost problem tormenting us is presently just beneath the political radar screen, for obvious reasons. But I also hear that it will re-emerge after the elections. I hope so.

We have a very big problem, only to worsen if we don't start seriously thinking about fundamental change. Mr. President, I am not yet absolutely sure of your identity but never mind, because I am proposing a solution to this problem that is entirely bipartisan. But, Mr. Obama, I have observed that you, apart from your fellow candidates who ran in the primaries, come closest to my proposed solution. You are promoting health care reforms that encourage the use of newer technologies, improve prevention and chronic disease management services and push for more comprehensive and affordable health insurance coverage. I also very much like your view that health care is a fundamental right. While I wonder a bit about your program specifics, I rather like where I think you are going.

I have little or no hope that any of the other health care plans will cut costs by doing the most important thing of all--actually improving health for as many people as possible. These plans only talk about who pays the bill or who is entitled to health care coverage.

We Americans pay far more per capita for health care than any country in the world, yet we rank embarrassingly low in quality of health care (thirtieth or lower, depending on criteria used). Further, we push aside 45-50 million of our people with no coverage at all. How can we pay so much and get so little in return, and then, to make matters worse, we mostly agree that it's only going to get worse?

Something is dreadfully wrong. It is this. These plans omit any serious consideration of the one factor that has the most to offer to make people well. It is nutrition. When truly understood and done right, the same kind of nutrition can restore health and prevent ailments like nothing else in medical science. It is more profound and broad based than almost anyone knows.

My scientific research and teaching career in nutritional science began over 50 years ago and mostly continued thereafter at Cornell University. Using our experimental findings along with those of others, I now have an understanding of nutrition that is strikingly different from what I was initially taught and what I myself first taught to my own students. I am referring to the extensive and profound nutritional benefits of consuming reasonably intact and minimally processed plant-based foods. My views these days are far removed from my days on the farm milking cows and later doing doctoral dissertation research that emphasized the health value of consuming more protein, especially animal based protein that we euphemistically called 'high quality'. Our research findings, which have been published in the very best peer-reviewed scientific journals and which were almost entirely funded by taxpayer money, is the primary basis for my views, now published in book form.

Coupled with my membership on expert panels on food and health policy development, I also have gained considerable insight into the question of why the public is not hearing this information. This exceptionally vital information has been withheld from the public, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not, and it is especially tragic. People die in the thousands. My estimate is that at least 2000 Americans die each day--with many more suffering unnecessary pain and compromised health before their time comes. What makes this especially irksome is my being acutely aware of the existence and implications of this ignored information--demonstrated both in the laboratory and in the clinics of my physician colleagues. Using this same information, my physician friends can cure--yes, cure--advanced diseases like heart disease and diabetes (mostly type II but even can remediate type I) and many other less serious ailments. The list of health benefits continues to grow and many are of the most profound nature.

I am constantly gnawed by the thought that we now know enough about food and health to make this information part of our health care system but we don't. Doctors essentially receive no training in nutrition--that is, none. Instead, they are trained in the use of drugs and procedures as the principal means to health, the antithesis of using food as the principal means to health. The underlying biology for the nutrition-based and drug-based strategies for health maintenance and promotion could hardly be further apart. Drug activity is biologically targeted and opposes the natural order of things. Nutrition is biologically comprehensive and supports the natural order of things. The drug strategy depends on a yearning for acquisition of capital by the few. A nutrition strategy depends on a yearning for acquisition of health by the many.

The guilt that I feel in my gut becomes so intense when I constantly see people needlessly suffering because they do not know what some of us have come to know. My guilt also arises from my knowing that a highly capitalized and drug-based system too often trivializes the scientific evidence on nutrition and, in doing so, it will support and encourage a self-serving and very expensive health care system.

We can do better--far better. I envision a nationally based health care system that is far more affordable, convenient, efficacious and cost effective than our present system. It is neither coercive nor unreachable. Its format is grassroots because it encourages and rewards people who take responsibility for their own health. I am confident of this plan because it encompasses--in sequence--awareness, experience, convenience, motivation and affordability. Each of these components is critical for a solution to our current health care crisis--a solution that is possible if government agrees to stop hosting the self-serving interests of the corporate sector and, by doing so, to provide objective personally useful information for its citizens. It is time for change, real change that matters. tcc1@cornell.edu