Monday, March 29, 2010

Universal Health Care: One Giant Step for Mankind?

First Lady Michelle Obama has made health care a central part of her portfolio. She is addressing the reduction and prevention of diabetes among children by encouraging healthy eating. This is a difficult, but admirable, effort. Even here in Silicon Valley, where middle- and upper-middle class parents are well educated, there is a visible epidemic of obesity among children and adults in malls, supermarkets, and restaurants.

One Giant Step for Mankind can be broken down into many small steps for man. A good place to start is with reduced intake of salt, which medical professionals claim will lower the incidence of coronary disease. Use of salt can be quantified and the impact of reduced intake on rates of coronary disease assessed. Ross Perot talked about pilot projects to learn what works and what doesn’t. In this vein, a pilot project to reduce salt intake could be a valuable cost-saving exercise.

Alas, this too is no easy task. Having spent Saturday morning shopping in Costco, I observed shopping baskets full of prepared food. A glance at nutrition labels reveals large amounts of salt and saturated fat. Salt and fat give food a delicious taste. Too, the shelves in Costco and supermarkets are laden with sugary items. Few shopping baskets consist of foodstuffs with minimal amounts of salt and saturated fat.

Let’s commence a national effort to reduce salt intake, financed, if necessary, with federal funds. If we can’t accomplish this limited objective within a year or two, it should raise questions about whether other elements in the Health Care reform will succeed in changing behavior to reduce costs and achieve better health outcomes.

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