The American disease and death bowls

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The National Football League’s Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 2 and the Iowa Caucuses kick off the national Political Super Bowl on Feb. 3. Both will make you sick.

During the college football bowl season, giving way to the professional football Super Bowl, American companies will spend more than $2 billion in television ads … to eventually add an estimated $200 billion to America’s annual national health care costs.

At the same time, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and others continue to advance schemes such as “Medicare for All,” which will not fix these problems, but will crush the already fragile American health care system.

After all of this spectacle, America will be a lot sicker.

When watching football bowl games, fans worry about possibly debilitating player injuries. That’s the least of the problem. The real problem is revealed in the names of the games. The Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl (childhood diabetes and obesity), the Allstate Sugar Bowl (diabetes for all, obesity and cancer), the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (clogged arteries and inflammation), the Cheez-It Bowl (clogged arteries, high blood pressure, cancer and stroke), the Outback Bowl (saturated fat and animal hormones), the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (major use: french fries, aka, saturated fat, obesity, inflammation, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and stroke), and the Tropical Smoothie Frisco Bowl (mountains of sugar; see above). Even without the new sponsor names we had the Sun Bowl (melanoma) and the Rose Bowl (pesticides). OK, there are the Vrbo Citrus Bowl and Capital One Orange Bowl (hopefully organic). 

Of course, during all of the college bowl games, the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, more than $2 billion is spent on ads encouraging the 200 million viewers to consume pizza, burgers, steaks, ribs, chicken wings, processed meats, fried fish, sugary cereal, fried and salted chips and snacks, sugar-sweetened drinks, beer and — perhaps the most dangerous — political candidates. Saturated fats, salt, sugar, gluten, alcohol … and politicians.

All of this leads to our largely preventable, epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, dementia, arthritis, cancer and stroke that represent the true American health crisis. And much of this crisis is focussed on the poor, whom politicians pretend to serve.

Proposals such as Medicare for All will not help and can’t be financed. Democratic U.S. presidents from Jack Kennedy to Bill Clinton understood the economic principle that higher tax rates, especially on the rich, generally lead to declining federal tax revenues. The eight years of the tax-aggressive Obama administration brought in $9.9 trillion total from individual income taxes and $2.1 trillion from corporate taxes. But, in only two years, the tax-lowering Trump administration has brought in $3.8 trillion in individual income taxes and nearly $1 trillion in business taxes. In short, Trump’s lower tax rates returned an average of more than $500 billion per year in individual and corporate tax revenue than Obama’s high rates. 

Sanders has proposed an additional $5 trillion per year in taxes to finance his programs — collected from where? That money is pure fantasy, especially if he is killing off oil and other major industrial sectors with regulations and taxes. The wealthy will move funds overseas as they did under Obama. Medicare for All is toxic, fiscal poison. If America is going to be healthier and provide quality health care to more people, it will require a fundamental transformation far beyond the bandwidth of the current candidates and their Super Bowl ads.

Even more important, America needs major policy changes to reduce the $200 billion additional annual strain on the system from preventable diseases. 

Part of the answer lies in changing the vast array of government programs that subsidize meat, dairy, sugar, salt, corn and wheat, all of which are shown to be strongly associated with a large portion of preventable disease and health care costs. If the candidates really are concerned about American health, that’s a good place to start. But you can bet none will be brave enough leaders to bring that up in Iowa.

That leaves the solution to consumers. More and more Americans have become inured to the “fake news” from the meat, dairy, sugar and processed foods industries. Demands for organic food, without pesticide and other chemical contamination, have created an entirely new food retail industry. New meat and dairy substitutes are everywhere. Even Hollywood gave a nod with this year’s vegan Golden Globes. Hollywood also has produced transformational health documentaries such as James Cameron’s “The Game Changers” and “Forks Over Knives.”

Growing consumer awareness of gruesome cattle “feedlots” and other industrial meat and dairy practices, as well as the enormous impact on climate change and water usage from the meat and dairy industries, almost certainly spell doom for American cattle ranches and dairy farms over the next 50 years. Future generations may only come upon a cow, pig or chicken in a zoo. Notably, the American meat industry is starting to rebrand itself as a “protein” industry.

The bottom line is that, in 2020, the politics of health care system reform are feckless and the politics of healthy food system reform are untouched. In the upcoming football and political Super Bowls, as Americans absorb relentless pitches from the meat, dairy, processed food, fast food and political messaging industries, know that they all should contain the warning label: “The following message may be hazardous to your health.”

Grady Means is a writer and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and a staff economist in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He was the White House liaison to the National Health Insurance Experiment and helped write and implement the HMO Act of 1973. Follow him on Twitter @GradyMeans.

Tags 2020 presidential election Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton College football Elizabeth Warren Health care in the United States Medicare Nutrition Obesity Super Bowl

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