The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.

Thomas Edison

The current debate about “health care reform” focuses on how and what to do about health insurance (and the increasingly large numbers of people, myself included, who can no longer afford it) rather than on the core issues of health itself. Health is a complex dance of what you feed yourself, the physical activities you perform, and your overall lifestyle choices not just whether you have access to a medical professional when you really need one.

There are those who say that people should learn to take care of themselves, but neglect to consider that most people have never learned what that means. If your parents grew up eating junk food, how will you know what healthy food is? If your parents had desk jobs and did nothing physical all day and then came home and sat on the couch watching TV all night how will you know what healthy physical activity is? If your parents drank heavily, smoked a lot, stayed up late and slept until noon all weekend, how can you know what healthy lifestyle choices are?

There are efforts to get that information out there – those who know are trying to improve access to fresh produce for those who live in “food deserts” – urban communities which lack even one grocery store within walking distance but have plenty of fast food joints and liquor stores. There are others who work to create and run community centers so kids have a place to play basketball or other sports. There are support groups for those who want to quit smoking and drinking. There are innovative concepts such as the Edible Schoolyard which weaves gardening, cooking, and healthy eating into the entire school curriculum from seed to succulent meal to compost for the next garden.

Somehow we as a nation need to put aside the political squabbling and put all of these pieces together before the poor nutritional choices, lack of exercise, and chaotic lifestyle weaken us to the point that we can no longer maintain ourselves as a people. We are seeing this happen within our lifetimes, as children now suffer the consequences of their parents’ ill-informed choices. Obesity, diabetes, cardiorespiratory issues, weak bones, all of these are products of lifestyle not of age. We in the USA are the most over-fed calorie-wise yet nutritionally deficient in spite of the huge amounts of dietary supplements consumed (most of those vitamins end up in the water supply to feed the algae which depletes the oxygen supply to fish and other creatures in our rivers and bays).

It’s time to stop thinking of processed convenience food-like products as “cheap” when the health effects of a lifetime of eating a predominance of it is so expensive. Invest a little more upfront in high-quality nutrient-dense real foods and reap the savings on doctor bills over the rest of your life.