Did you read that title and think “oh boy, here’s a big can of worms?” I did too – there are so many controversial topics that I feel need to be discussed, and I always file them on my “Blog Ideas” document to save for a day when I can do a better job at posting my thorough, complete thoughts. Well, as the list piles up, I’m starting to realize that that day may never come, so I might as well just get my thoughts out there and get the discussion going!
Trust me, I don’t want to turn this into a political blog (I’m not educated or convicted enough to sustain that!), but today’s post covers ways that governmental regulations make us healthier (or attempt to do so). I’m purposely leaving off the debate about posting calorie counts on menus, because that deserves a post of its own. And I know this is far from a complete list of things governments everywhere are doing to increase health … these are just a few things that have caught my eye recently. Most importantly, I want to hear what YOU think about these topics … a one way conversation is not the intention! (picture source)
- Trans Fat Ban: This one is the most recent, and probably the most surprising to me (in a good way). As the prevalence of trans fats in foods we consume daily (including fried foods, baked goods, and many processed and packaged foods) has skyrocketed, we’ve also learned about the dangers of trans fats, which increase LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) and contribute to heart disease. In the past, the FDA has allowed manufacturers to report “0g trans fat” when the levels were less than 0.5g per serving, but given that any amount of trans fat is dangerous, eating several servings of “og trans fat” items that actually contained 0.45g per serving was an un-labeled risk. There are easy ways to make the same foods without trans fats – cities like New York and Philadelphia that have already banned trans fats are surely not lacking in fried foods or baked goods. However, the FDA is now stepping in to potentially eliminate trans fats all together. I do understand the argument that eliminating trans fats all together is a bit too interventionist for some, but to me, anything we can do that improves the health of citizens so dramatically (without decreasing the quality of life or reducing the choices available to these citizens) is a win; I support this potential ban. (By the way, Amy did a great post about this, extending the discussion from just trans fats and to overall responsibility for health … check it out!) (picture source)
- Smoking: I’m not intending to make light of any of these situations with comics like the above, only to keep you entertained. The comic does bring us to our next topic … smoking. A recent study showed that smokers cost private employers an additional $5,816 per year in smoking breaks and excess health expenses. Now, the Affordable Care Act (a serious can of worms in itself, which I won’t discuss here) is allowing employers to charge smokers up to 50% more in premiums. I am against charging for pre-existing conditions (although I agree the term “condition” is debatable here), so my personal preference would be to re-frame this in a positive light: offer helpful, hands-on smoking cessation programs to all smokers, and only charge extra if they do not comply. (picture source, which also contains great resources on smoking cessation!)
- Open Space: Australian researchers found that those who lived in areas with more green and open space had significantly lower rates of Type II diabetes and obesity, and higher rates of physical activity. I realize that public space maintenance is expensive, but I strongly believe that providing free-of-charge access to public parks is a great way for governments to improve appearance of cities and make the population healthier. (picture source)
- Fruit and Vegetable Prescriptions: This is one of my favorites!! As a college economics major, of course my mind immediately goes to the economic impact of a program like this, but I feel confident that the increases in health will make the program economically viable. After all, only 1.5% of Americans currently meet recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake … and it’s certainly not doing any favors for our healthcare costs! Two hospitals in New York are offering patients prescriptions for “Health Bucks,” which are good for $2 vouchers per person per week, to spend on produce at Farmer’s Markets. Another program called “Wholesome Wave” has been providing similar vouchers at $1 per person per day, and has shown amazing results (55% of participants increased fruit and vegetable consumption, and 38% of child participants decreased BMI!). I believe that this program is a great way to get all those who argue that eating healthier is too expensive started on healthy living, while supporting local farmers! (picture source)
- Making healthy living fun for kids: It sounds silly, but I’m all about health education in any form we can get it. A former-Rockette and current Registered Dietician named Helen Butleroff-Leahy is teaching kids about healthy living by engaging them in a 45-minute musical production, complete with dancing and healthy-living rap music (the article has some of the lyrics and will make you smile!). She’s been to 52 New York City schools so far, and the kids are loving the program. Teaching children about nutrition and exercise at an early age is the key to setting them up for a healthy lifestyle in the future, so I’m all about programs like this! (picture source)
- PE classes: Did you know that only 6 states require the recommended amount of daily activity for kids in their elementary schools? Only 2 states require these 150-minutes per week of activity for middle schoolers, and no states require the amount for high schoolers. My grade-school self is absolutely cursing my future-self for saying this (I hated PE because I was never picked first for kickball and was always towards the back-of-the-pack in the dreaded mile test!!), but I do think we need to prioritize physical education for kids. Not only is it a great outlet for their excess energy (to allow them to focus more in the classroom), but teaching them at an early age that moving their bodies is an important part of every day life is critical. I’ll throw a bone to the old-Megan, though … let’s focus on finding something they like to do rather than making it feel so dramatic for those who get picked last! (picture source)
- What do YOU think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these topics!
So tell me in the comments … Which one of these regulations is your favorite and why? What’s one way your government is doing a great job (or could do a better job) at increasing the health of the citizens of your country? Did you love or hate PE as a kid?