Benjamin Franklin once said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Let’s frame that quote into the context of this country’s current obesity crisis.
According to recent reports, obesity is responsible for about 10% of healthcare costs in the US, an estimated $147,000,000,000 (that’s 147 billion) annually.
And while our highly trained, very capable doctors can help cure, fix, and medicate a patient, a good dietitian may help a client avoid the illness in the first place. (Notice the nomenclature – patient vs client).
If you think your doctor can give you some diet tips, know this – the average physician does not receive a single credit’s worth of nutrition education while at medical school. So when a doctor tells you to lose some weight, she does not necessarily have the tools to help you make it happen.
The US has over 550,000 doctors but less than 70,000 dietitians. The average annual salary of a physician in the US is $200,000, but the average dietitian will see less than a quarter of that amount, $49,000.
Using some very crude math, let’s assume that 10% of healthcare cost translates to 10% of doctors or 55,000 MDs. What if we magically retrained those doctors and added a nutrition degree to their quiver of skills? Would this reduce the number of obesity related diseases by 10%?
This is all wishful thinking, because in the US today there is no direct incentive to engage in even half an ounce of prevention. It’s much more profitable to create health problems (fast food industry, junk food manufacturers) and then spend billions to cure them (Medical bills, pharmaceuticals). It’s a profitable business cycle for corporations, but not a sound proposition for consumers.
This is not in any way meant to be a lash out at doctors, who do their jobs tirelessly and loyally. It’s just that doctors are great at helping sick people, mostly after the fact. Pre-emptive care is undervalued today because there is no financial incentive in the current business ecosystem to help keep people lean and fit. In fact, dietetic consultations are not necessarily covered by health insurance.
What can be done?
Policymakers should create financial incentives for industries to prevent people from getting fat and sick. Medical schools should see find ways to integrate nutrition education into their syllabus.
If you are a young, talented and ambitious college student who wants to help people be healthy, where do you think you’ll have more impact? Shoot away in the comments below.
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