Healthy lifestyles and health care

I meant to comment on this piece in the San Diego Union Tribune last week about testing that would show genetic predispositions to heart disease, cancer or diabetes. The hope of scientists and officials at Scripps Health System in San Diego is that consumers would change their eating/exercise habits if they knew they were at risk.

I understand the desire to get as much information as possible into consumers’ hands about their health history so that they can be conscientious. What makes me uncomfortable about discussions about “individual responsibility” is that it takes out of the debate other social causes for health problems. It alarms me when discussion about healthy habits does not also include a more full-throated discussion about the environmental, geographical, socio-economic and cultural influences that affect a person’s health.

Many lower income families live in neighborhoods where there are fewer stores stocked with fresh, healthy produce — and those items are often too expensive. McDonald’s and Taco Bell provide inexpensive meals with enough calories to nourish a family, though we all know its content is less than high quality and more like high fat. These families also live in neighborhoods where there are fewer parks available where children can safely play and get exercise. These children, because of their environment (living close to where pesticides are sprayed or an industrial area), are susceptible to asthma and diabetes.

An inspiring article, though, was Michael Pollan’s (of Omnivore’s Dilemma) New York Times Magazine piece about — okay, food policy — but it talks about it more holistically, and how we all (and our desire for cheap, abundant food) have played a role in the way our food is delivered now. We can change that now. We are all responsible and can be responsible for getting safe, fresh healthy foods to everyone.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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