We all know that unhealthy eating causes obesity. And we all know that obesity causes serious disease. What we’re less aware of here in the USA is the sheer scale of the issue. It’s not just that we have a lot of obese people – it’s that our diets are causing disease on an extremely serious scale. And it’s not just limited to obesity. In studies around the world, processed meats and artificial ingredients have been proven to be carcinogens – cancer-causing agents. They’ve also been linked to diabetes and heart disease, even in cases where the sufferer is not, medically-speaking, obese. The depth and breadth of the evidence here is overwhelming. The link between diet (especially a diet containing plentiful processed meats) and deadly disease is indisputable.
So why is it that, here in the USA, medical associations are actively promoting a diet containing these carcinogens?
The most cursory of glances at the academic literature reveals a wealth of proof: in several exhaustive, peer-reviewed studies, the typical ‘Western diet’ (and processed meats in particular) are linked conclusively to clogged arteries, Type 2 diabetes, mental health problems, heart disease, and cancer. Many medical authorities are warning that a diet rich in processed meats is as dangerous (if not more so) as smoking. Yet, despite the indisputable evidence, the USA still has a peculiar radio-silence on the link between diet and life-threatening disease. In other parts of the world, information on this is being disseminated, and measures similar to those we have in place for tobacco are being taken. Here, however, while doctors, health insurers, and life insurers will issue stern warnings over ‘lifestyle’ choices like smoking and drinking, dietary factors like processed meats tend to fly under the radar. Why?
As you’ve probably already guessed, the issue is our healthcare system. Here, let’s do a little comparison. Here’s a cancer charity based in the UK, talking seriously about the risks of red and processed meats. Here’s a Canadian cancer organisation, giving tips on how to cut down on meaty carcinogens. Here’s the UK NHS, recommending that people cut down on or eliminate red and processed meat. Here’s an Australian take on the topic.
And here’s the American cancer society, actively recommending processed meat snacks as part of a healthy diet.
What’s going on? Well, it’s the same old story. Unlike the healthcare systems in the UK, Canada, and (to a lesser extent) Australia, the American healthcare system is privately funded. This means that vested interests can, essentially, pay to have bad news buried. Entities like McDonalds, Kraft, KFC, and so on put a lot of money into our cancer and diabetes charities and organisations. Having those organisations acknowledge the link between the foods they make and the diseases they’re trying to cure would inevitably put the kybosh on an awful lot of funding. The same thing happened with smoking and Big Tobacco, until the evidence and the pressure growing behind it became too huge to ignore.
Cures Make More Money Than Prevention
Then there’s the eternal ‘Big Pharma’ issue. When your healthcare system relies on people buying drugs, healthy people are a bit of a problem. It makes far more financial sense for drug companies to keep peddling pharmaceuticals to sick people than it does for them to prevent those people from getting sick in the first place. As such, disseminating the knowledge that the all-American diet is causing a lot of serious problems could have a negative knock-on effect on drug companys’ profits.
Go anywhere in the world where Big Pharma doesn’t have a direct link to the wallets of the sick, and you’ll see healthcare organisations, charities, doctors, and governments doing their utmost to make the dangers of an unhealthy diet clear to consumers. There are posters, warning labels, public health campaigns, and more. Here in America, it’s a different story. While we’re all vaguely aware of the dangers of obesity, specifics about processed meats and deadly disease are worryingly hard to come by. Even when you’ve got said diseases, you’re more likely to be sold drugs than given lifestyle advice. Perhaps that’s why we’re the most medicated nation on the planet, by a long way.