By Dr. Mercola
According to a new health analysis bearing the revealing title: US Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health1, Americans come in dead last in a comparison of 17 affluent nations.
The research was unable to uncover any single cause or "rallying point for action." Instead, it calls for more research to "ferret out the effects of our current policies."
C'mon! You've got to be kidding me.
Considering the fact that human health tends to be primarily affected by a) nutrition, b) exercise, and c) toxic exposures, do they seriously believe that we can improve public health while ignoring these three basic areas?
What Does the Human Body Require to Be Healthy?
A staggering two-thirds of American adults are overweight, and more than one-quarter of adults fall into the obese category. One in four Americans is pre-diabetic or diabetic. It should be obvious that diet and exercise are critical factors here. The National Institutes of Health even states that four of the six leading causes of death in the United States are linked to unhealthy diets.
The question is why are so many people unable to regulate their weight and insulin sensitivity? The following points are well worthy of careful consideration when pondering this issue:
- The top two crops grown in the U.S. are corn and soy. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil are two of the most popular ingredients made from these crops.2 High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has repeatedly been shown to be a driving factor behind being overweight and having poor health outcomes. HFCS is pervasive and in many processed food items some individuals would never expect, including so called diet foods and 'enhanced' water products. Even most infant formulas contain the sugar equivalent of one can of Coca-Cola.
Furthermore, soybean oil is another common unhealthy ingredient in many processed foods and soybeans can be severely and systemically contaminated with high amounts of the potent herbicide glyphosate. Additionally, over 85 percent of all corn grown in the US is genetically engineered (GE)3, which further increases the risk of high glyphosate contamination.The safety of either of these items has never been proven. According to a recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG)4, Americans are eating their weight and more in GE foods each and every year.
- Thirty-three percent of American adults are also completely sedentary, and more than half of adults over the age of 18 never engage in any vigorous leisure-time physical activity lasting 10 minutes or more per week.
- According to a study by the EWG5, blood samples from newborns contained an average of 287 toxins, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides, and chemicals from non stick products. Of the 287 chemicals EWG detected in umbilical cord blood, it's known that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals; 217 are toxic to your brain and nervous system; and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests. Clearly, when babies are born loaded with toxic chemicals, it's a sign that toxic exposure is too high.
- While there are many types and routes of toxic exposure, one would be remiss to overlook Americans use of pharmaceutical drugs, as drugs have, on average, 70 different potential side effects, and are responsible for the premature death of at least 106,000 Americans per year, when taken as prescribed. Americans pop the most pills of any other nation, and that includes children. Americans also receive the most amount of vaccinations.
So.... let's think... What could possibly be the root of Americans' failure to thrive? The Atlantic6, reporting on the findings writes:
"In presenting their findings... the authors seemed to be urging the U.S. to do some soul searching. Our culture 'cherishes independence' and 'wants to limit the intrusion of government in our personal lives,' said Steven Woolf, director of the Center for Human Needs at Virginia Commonwealth University, the panel chairman.
While those values serve us in some ways, he said, our resistance to regulation 'may work against our ability to achieve optimal health outcomes.'"
Aha! So it's Americans' striving for independence and freedom of choice that is to blame for such poor dietary choices and health outcomes?! They mean to tell us that we're all so inept at making healthy choices, we need to abandon our independent spirits and embrace more nanny state regulations that might finally whip us into shape. Honestly, I feel like I'm reading something out of The Onion... It's all so backwards.
Why Do Americans Consume Such a Bad Diet?
For the sake of brevity, I will limit my comments to the issue of diet here. But first, let's consider a few of the questions we need to ask:
- Do Americans purposefully consume excessive amounts of fat-promoting, health-harming HFCS because they love it and refuse to eat foods that don't contain it, or are there other reasons why Americans can't seem to control their waistlines?
And do they really intentionally consume far too many carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods in place of healthy fats like avocados, olives, coconut oil, butter, nuts, eggs and olive oil, which cause them to be adapted to burning carbs as their primary fuel rather than fat, or is this type of diet a more or less inevitable side effect of NOT thinking independently and seeking out real nutritional facts, but rather mindlessly buying what's available in the store and advertised as healthy on TV?
- Do Americans really want to consume more genetically engineered foods than any other country?
- Do freedom-loving Americans who "cherish independence" seek to buy more or less whole, unadulterated, unprocessed foods that might help improve their health and, at the very least, reduce toxic exposure?
I propose considering the following facts before blaming America's failing health on the average shopper's pesky determination to make independent, foolhardy choices:
- The US government subsidizes the very crops identified as being the most harmful to human health and the environment; the top three being corn, wheat, and soybeans. And nearly all of the corn and soybeans grown are genetically engineered varieties.
By subsidizing these, the US government is actively supporting a diet that consists of these grains in their processed form, namely high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), hydrogenated soybean oil, and meats loaded with antibiotics – all of which are now well-known contributors to obesity and chronic disease. These junk-food subsidies make it much cheaper to buy a burger, fries and soda from a fast-food restaurant than it is to buy grass-fed beef and veggies. It's not that these foods necessarily cost more to grow or produce; rather the prices for the junk foods are being artificially reduced by the government.
- The US further promotes use of HFCS in food manufacturing by imposing import tariffs on foreign sugar, raising the price of sucrose above those in other countries.
- When the dangers of HFCS finally began to seep into the American consciousness, consumer demand forced many companies to reformulate their processed foods using other types of sweeteners, or ditching sweetening agents altogether. Today, you can find a number of food products marked "No HFCS" and government intervention had nothing to do with this beneficial change.
- The US government has repeatedly refused to take any action to label genetically engineered foods, despite overwhelming public support and demand for labeling.
- The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has repeatedly harassed, raided, and shut down small farms producing healthful organic and raw foods, such as raw dairy and cheese, along with private co-ops procuring and delivering such foods to health-conscious customers.
Americans Die Earlier and Live in Poorer Health
These are examples of Big Government making health decisions for you. How have they been working out so far? The proof is in the pudding, and the featured report7 tells us that what we've been doing so far is NOT working.
According to the report, Americans die earlier and live in poorer health than people in other developed nations, which included Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the U.K.
Of these 17 affluent countries, the US ranks last overall, and near the bottom in nine key areas of health, including low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections; HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and general disability. At 75.6 years, American men have the lowest life expectancy among the countries reviewed, and American women ranked second-to-last at 80.7 years. The infant mortality rate in the US is equally abysmal, with 32.7 deaths per 100,000, while most others range between 15 and 25 deaths per 100,000.
Interestingly, the US lags behind all these nations even though smoking rates in the US are far lower than many of the other nations, indicating that, apparently, there's more to good health than quitting smoking. Or, alternatively, that even smokers can enjoy a modicum of health IF they're able to compensate with other healthy lifestyle strategies. So, again, how are more nanny state regulations going to improve the situation when they clearly are not willing to accept the sources of the problem in the first place?
The truth is, in order to regulate away this problem, the US government would have to cut all ties with industry and eliminate its conflicts of interest and massive revolving doors with the very industry it is mandated to regulate.
The likelihood of that happening appears slim to none, considering that Big Ag and Big Pharma are two of the biggest and strongest lobbying groups of all business sectors vying for favors from our legislators8. And they're getting them—which is how we got into this abhorrent mess in the first place, where what is good is portrayed as bad, and that which is bad is ignored. The answer is to promote more independence of choice, and limiting the intrusion of government in our food choices—the very things these reviewers claim are part of the problem... The report also found that Americans:
- Have a long-standing pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive over the course of their lifetimes. Overall, Americans die and suffer from illness and injury at rates that are unnecessary
- Even affluent Americans with higher education and insurance who engage in healthy behaviors (such as not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight) are in worse health than similar people in other nations
- Consume the most calories among peer countries
- Have more alcohol-related accidents
- Spend more than $8,600 per person per year on health care, which is more than twice the amount spent by the UK, France, and Sweden
How Can the Wealthiest Industrialized Nation be the Sickest?
Since the mid-1990s, the number of Americans suffering from at least three chronic illnesses nearly doubled. Life expectancy has decreased and infant mortality has increased. Illnesses once rare are now common, with some approaching epidemic levels. For example:
- Autism now affects one in 88 children (CDC), compared to one in 25,000 in the mid-1970s
- Type 2 diabetes rates in the U.S. increased by 176 percent between 1980 and 2010
- Celiac disease is four times more common now than 60 years ago
- Alzheimer's disease is rising at alarming rates. It's estimated that 5.4 million Americans (one in eight older Americans) now has Alzheimer's disease, and nearly half of those age 85 and older have it; AD rates have doubled since 1980
- New infectious diseases are increasing in number, according to a 2008 study
In his documentary, Jeffrey Smith makes a convincing argument that one of the primary forces driving these illnesses is America's changing food supply. And one of the most profound changes is genetically engineered food. Proving GE food is causing Americans to be sick is a tall order, but the evidence presented in this film is very compelling and should not be ignored.
GMO Report Disproves FDA's Safety Claims
There is a significant compilation of scientific evidence that casts serious doubt on the claims made by industry and government officials about the safety of GE foods. Consider this report by The Atlantic9 The authors of the report "GMO Myths and Truths"10 took a science-based approach to evaluating the available research, arriving at the conclusion that most of the scientific evidence regarding safety and increased yield potential do not at all support the claims.
In fact, the evidence demonstrates the claims for genetically engineered foods are not just wildly overblown – they simply aren't true. Not only are GE foods less nutritious than non-GE foods, they pose distinct health risks, are inadequately regulated, harm the environment and farmers, and are a poor solution to world hunger.
The authors of this critical report include Michael Antoniou, PhD, who heads the Gene Expression and Therapy Group at King's College at London School of Medicine in the UK. He's a 28-year veteran of genetic engineering technology who has himself invented a number of gene expression biotechnologies; and John Fagan, PhD, a leading authority on food sustainability, biosafety, and GE testing. If you want to get a comprehensive understanding of genetically engineered foods, I strongly recommend reading this report.
11 Basic Guidelines for General Health and Longevity
Leading a common sense, healthy lifestyle is your best bet to produce a healthy body and mind, and increase your longevity. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical industry, the food industry, and even government itself sure won't make it easy for you to avoid the garbage that ruins your health. The following guidelines form the basic tenets of optimal health and healthy weight—foundational strategies that will not change, regardless of what marvels modern science comes up with next. For more comprehensive guidance, please see my fully updated nutritional plan, which takes you from beginner's stage to advanced:
- Eat a healthy diet, paying very careful attention to keeping your insulin levels down (my free nutritional plan will help guide you through your dietary changes with minimal effort)
- Replace sweetened drinks (whether they're sweetened with sugar, HFCS, or artificial sweeteners) with plenty of pure, clean water
- Avoid all genetically engineered foods. There are nine primary GE food crops, but their derivatives are in over 70 percent of supermarket foods, particularly processed foods. GE ingredients can hide. For example, every can of soda containing high fructose corn syrup most likely contains GE corn. Make sure none of the following are on your grocery list, unless they are USDA certified organic:
Soy Cottonseed Corn Canola Oil Hawaiian papaya Alfalfa Sugar from sugar beets Some varieties of zucchini Crookneck squash
Avoid any product containing aspartame, which is derived from a GE organism. And avoid any milk products that may have rBGH. I recommend consuming only raw, organic milk products you've obtained from a trustworthy local dairy farmer. The Institute for Responsible Technology has put together a helpful Non-GMO Shopping Guide you can download and print. They even have an iPhone app.
- Optimize your gut flora with fermented foods, such as fermented vegetables, which you can easily and inexpensively make at home
- Consume healthy fats, like butter, eggs, avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, and nuts, especially macadamia nuts which are higher in fat and lower in protein
- Eat plenty of raw food
- Exercise regularly. Make sure to incorporate high intensity interval training at least once or twice a week
- Get an appropriate amount of sunlight to optimize your vitamin D levels
- Limit toxin exposure
- Get plenty of sleep
- Manage your stress
Let's face it, government health recommendations and regulations relating to diet and health have failed miserably, and the featured report delivers the somber statistics of where we're at on the global scene. While spending twice as much on health care per capita, we're not getting results. I believe we'll keep seeing more of the same until or unless we change our stance on what a healthy diet is, and what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. We need to move away from the idea that being on a dozen medications means you're doing something right for your health... This is NOT health care. This is disease management, and it comes at a very steep price, namely your longevity.
Until or unless the US government takes industry to task, our regulators and legislators cannot be trusted to usher Americans toward better health. In the meantime, it is up to YOU to take control of your health, and do what is right for you, to live a healthier, longer, drug- and disease-free life. Proper nutrition, exercise, and avoidance of toxins are three critical factors to address in this process, and this website contains literally tens of thousands of freely available articles to help you do just that.
By buying organic, you will dramatically reduce your exposure to pesticides, hormones and antibiotics, as those are used on nearly all GE crops. When shopping locally, know your local farmers. Many are too small to afford official certification, but many still adhere to organic, sustainable practices. The only way to determine how your food is raised is to check them out, meeting the farmer face to face if possible. Yes, it does take time but is worth it if you are really concerned about your family's health.