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If you complain about the cost of health care ...

Published May 10. 2019 10:51PM

Do you waste too much mental energy complaining about things you can’t control? I know I foolishly fixate upon the fair-weather forecast that suddenly turns foul if it keeps me from riding bicycle outside that day.

When the weather unexpectedly heads south and I’m in school, I’ll see another teacher in the halls (and another and another probably) and say, “We can put a man on the moon, create artificial intelligence — and artificial food like that oh-so enticing Spam — yet we can’t figure out the weather a day in advance.”

Shame on me for wasting mental energy. Shame on me for wasting someone else’s time with a weak attempt at humor.

And shame on you if you complain about the cost of health care yet make no effort to eat healthy foods.

While many others would also have to do the same, a concerted effort across the nation would reduce the cost of health care considerably. Proof of that appears in the results of a study done by researchers at Tufts University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and published in March by the journal PLOS Medicine.

The groups created two statistical what-if scenarios, and the question they sought to answer was “What if Medicaid and Medicare, the two largest healthcare programs in the U.S., covered 30 percent of healthy food purchases?” In the broader of the two what-if scenarios, purchases of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seafood, and plant oils were subsidized by both agencies for five years.

While that program would cost $210.4 billion, it would prevent 3.28 million cases of heart disease and 120,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, saving Medicaid and Medicare $310.4 billion in payouts. The math is simple and the savings staggering: $100 billion over a five-year period.

Citing this study, however, does not necessarily mean I support adopting such a measure. I’m ambivalent about such an inducement because people should not need a monetary incentive to eat better.

But citing this study certainly supports a point I’ve expressed repeatedly. For too long, the American diet has placed taste and convenience ahead of nutrition.

And while there are factors beyond your control that have helped the cost of health care to skyrocket, eating well and working out is your best way to bring that cost back down to Earth — or at least into its orbit.

According to Medical News Today, Yujin Lee, PhD., the co-author of the aforementioned study, believes the same, too. “We found that encouraging people to eat healthy foods,” Lee says, “could be as or more cost-effective as other common interventions, such as preventative drug treatments for hypertension or high cholesterol.”

Other studies abound that aid the argument that what you eat and how often and intensely you work out reduce the cost of health care primarily because doing so reduces the number of times you need to see a doctor.

This winter, for instance, research performed at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at King’s College London, England, and published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series A found a correlation between eating blueberries and reducing the risk of heart disease.

The study used 40 subjects in excellent health and gave 20 of them a drink consisting of 200 grams of blueberries every day for a month. The other 20 drank a control drink instead.

In a month, the blueberry-beverage consumers recorded an average blood pressure decrease, 5 millimeters of mercury, the sort of decrease many thought could only be produced by medication. The decrease is so significant that if it sustained, it reduces the risk of developing heart disease by 20 percent.

Moreover, other medical benefits were recorded within two hours of consuming the blueberry-infused drink the first day.

Appropriate exercise could ultimately lower the cost of health care, too, and a study published this winter in the Journal of Physiology can be cited as partial proof. It focused on fighting the growth of a particularly lethal type cancer, colorectal cancer, the estimated cause of over 50,000 deaths this year.

While endurance-type exercise has long been touted as a way to reduce the incidence of dozens of cancers, until this study relatively little work had been done on high-intensity interval training. HIIT alternates quick, close-to-all-out efforts with far longer bouts of recovery, and the workout takes less time to complete than a steady 45-to-60 minute walk, run, or bicycle ride.

So researchers at the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia took blood from patients with colorectal cancer, had them perform a HIIT workout, and then took more blood immediately afterwards.

The after-exercise blood samples contained a “significantly reduced colon cancer cell number” and “significant increases” in proteins known to protect against the formation of cancer because they improve the body’s immune system and reduce inflammation.

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