America's Forgotten Public Health Crisis

Updated: Sep 17, 2020

The Nation's most lethal disease continues to go overlooked.

This year our government leaders have taken a front-and-center approach to leading the battle against a major public health crisis, and in an effort to save lives, have selflessly carried out the difficult task of setting out mitigatory measures in the form of regulations and restrictions both on commerce and personal living.

Some of the actions taken to address the public health crisis include the shutdown of businesses deemed non-essential, curfews, dress codes, restrictions on movement, regulations of alcohol sales, regulations on dining operations, and the closure of tax-funded facilities and services to name just a few. And that’s saying nothing about the recommendations for personal hygiene.

This major public health crisis in the United States, justifying such measures, has taken the lives of 194,092 people according to the CDC. It’s worth noting that this figure is under 3% of the total 6,537,627 cases that have been confirmed. And further, based on data that the CDC released some weeks ago, approximately 182,447 (or 94%) of these deaths were people who were, for what it’s worth, unfortunately suffering from an average of 2.6 other co-morbidities. That puts the likely mortality rate of this major public health crisis at roughly 0.17%. Please don’t shoot the messenger.

It has become apparent, if silence is to be construed as acceptance, that the government has an obligation to intervene and take emergency measures to mitigate and address public health crises. After all, assuming the CDC’s highest estimates are correct, almost 200,000 people have died—surely this must warrant government’s involvement. The alternative is that our government officials just don’t care about the public health.

As far as major public health crises are concerned, however, outbreaks of SARS/MERS in the last two decades account for just a shaving of the tip of the iceberg of fatal health conditions in the United States. According to the CDC, whose guidance we have followed religiously, approximately 655,000 people die every single year in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease (heart disease), accounting for the largest category of annual deaths. Based on the CDC’s data alone it follows that heart disease is a far greater, far more concerning, far more urgent major public health crisis than any other.

Isolating just a year’s worth of average deaths related to heart disease versus deaths related to SARS/MERS and ignoring the last two decades of roughly 12 million heart disease deaths, in just one year, heart disease kills 327% more people than SARS/MERS.

It’s obvious that heart disease should be classified as a major public health crisis. And using 2020 logic, it’s incumbent on our government officials to take decisive action, utilizing emergency powers, immediately!

But what would constitute an appropriate governmental response to this major public health crisis, in which over half a million people are lost each year? In order to identify potential public policy measures, we must assess the leading causes of heart disease.

The American Heart Association, a well-respected authority on heart disease, in a 2019 report on heart disease and stroke statistics found that the leading causes of heart disease were (in order): hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, lack of exercise, and smoking. Diabetes and kidney disease are also contributing factors. In short, bad nutrition and physical inactivity have led to the most serious and fatal public health crisis in modern times.

Since the precedent has been set, I’ve taken the liberty of drafting some potential regulatory measures that can be instituted, using emergency powers given the severity of this crisis, that should begin to address and mitigate the most lethal disease in the country. Please note, these regulations are for your safety and well-being:

  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shall commission a committee to identify and institute a strict dietary standard to be followed commercially and privately.

  • The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) shall commission a committee to identify and institute a strict mandatory standard of weight and body fat percentage relative to height.

  • All establishments found in non-compliance of USDA or HHS requirements shall be closed indefinitely.

  • Restaurants and dining establishments shall not use high concentrations of oil, grease, fat, sugar, or salt to prepare food.

  • Fast food establishments shall cease operations until a healthy standard of food service has been enacted, pursuant to USDA approval.

  • Sales of tobacco products shall be immediately ceased.

  • Sales of alcohol products shall be immediately ceased.

  • Restaurants and dining establishments shall reconstruct their menus pursuant to strict dietary standards as determined by the USDA.

  • Grocers and retailers shall cease selling any food products that fail to comply with the new USDA standards.

  • Rideshare businesses, shuttles, and taxis shall not be granted access inside residential communities; patrons shall walk the distance from their home to the nearest public access road.

  • Commercial establishments shall remove all mobility enhancement technology including, but not limited to, escalators, elevators, moving walkways, and automatic doors.

  • Local municipalities shall institute a mandatory daily exercise regimen that will be conducted via live video conferencing to ensure participation (1984 anybody?).

  • Video media usage shall be limited to two hours per day, inclusive of the exercise requirements as mandated by local municipalities.

  • A 75% tax shall be levied on all sales of office chairs, armchairs, sofas, and any other product that encourages sitting.

  • Illegal possession of any food product, tobacco product, or alcohol product will result in immediate imprisonment for up to 5 years and a fine of no less than $500. Heroin is fine though if you’re in San Francisco.

  • All persons exceeding HHS standards for weight and body fat percentage relative to height shall be required to use a combination of starvation techniques, weight-loss medication, and enhanced exercise to achieve compliance.

There is no denying that the suggested measures will certainly have a positive impact on the overall cardiovascular health of this country’s citizens. Regardless of that fact, though, even if the suggested measures might help just a little bit, they should be enacted. If public officials care about the public health, they must take matters into their own hands to lead the fight against the most dangerous health crisis we have ever faced.

According to the CDC, in the U.S. approximately 30% of adults and 15% of children are classified as obese, while 35% and 15% respectively are classified as overweight. Add to this the prevalence of alcoholism, smoking, and ever-increasing stress levels, and the picture is clear: we must respond to this health crisis now! People cannot be trusted to make their own decisions even if they are fully aware of the risks.

Upon further research, I discovered that in 1992 the USDA did, in fact, delve into the world of nutritional standards, albeit more as a guide than a requirement. To be fair, the USDA has been involved in issuing “food guidelines” since 1894, with consistent changes made as nutritional science (and food sector lobbies) advanced, resulting in frequent dietary changes in the public at large, but all this culminated in the 1992 food pyramid in response to ever-increasing rates of obesity and diabetes on the tail of a warning from the Surgeon General that foods with high-fat contents were to blame for the health crisis.

Questioners might stop here and ask why the number one killer has only gotten worse since then.

Without boring the reader with the ins and outs of nutritional science which I certainly don’t know, suffice it to say that the 1992 food pyramid, that many Americans followed in good faith, and after which growing children’s school lunches were crafted, was wrong. This is evidenced by the two revisions of the guidelines in 2005 (MyPyramid) and 2011 (MyPlate). Prior to this, as I mentioned, the USDA’s dietary recommendations went through many iterations in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

Is it safe to draw from this the conclusion that maybe the government’s involvement in nutrition has, at best, had no effect on or, at worst, severely contributed to the rising epidemic of nutrition-related heart disease? Aren’t we supposed to trust the government’s recommendations because they’re offered in the best interest of public health? How can we if they have been wrong so many times?

If you ask nutritionists today, most likely they will admit that each person is unique and has their own individual nutritional and physical needs. Humanity has survived for centuries by individuals listening, so to speak, to their bodies and acting accordingly. How then can the government issue a one-size-fits-all, universal approach to nutrition? And how can we be sure the science is sound? If effects are any indication of cause, I’d say we can’t.

But that’s the government’s M.O.; collective solutions for individual problems.

We’re told by our public officials that the response to what is hailed as one of the worst pandemics in history is done out of a duty to and concern for the public health. Well, if this is the case then why haven’t our public officials responded in kind to what clearly is a worse public health crisis?

And if our public officials don’t respond in the same manner to this and other more serious public health crises, like cancer, then it’s a safe bet to say they are not concerned with the public health. If they are not concerned with the public health, it raises the question: what was the motivation behind the no-holds-barred response to COVID-19?

Bottom line, if government’s involvement in nutritional science has only exacerbated (or is responsible for) the country’s struggle with the disease which kills more than half a million people each year, and has clearly gotten it wrong in the past, I do not believe government has any obligation to involve itself in regulating public health. In fact, I believe government has an obligation to not involve itself in regulating public health.

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