Monday, September 07, 2009

Does Health Care Reform Start At Home?


A recent editorial in the Wall Street Journal by the president of Whole Foods about the health care reform debate has kicked up controversy and inspired some to call for a boycott. One of the parts of the editorial that I found most thought provoking was the following:

Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health.

Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.

Recent scientific and medical evidence shows that a diet consisting of foods that are plant-based, nutrient dense and low-fat will help prevent and often reverse most degenerative diseases that kill us and are expensive to treat. We should be able to live largely disease-free lives until we are well into our 90s and even past 100 years of age.

I have not had the opportunity to independently verify the truth of the claims made in these paragraphs but they seem worth pondering. In the past, I would have dismissed such assertions as the usual individualist ideological tactic of minimizing the social dimensions of a problem while emphasizing the role of personal choice. I'm beginning to think however, that any meaningful discussion of health care reform must include a discussion of self-care reform. If access to high quality and affordable health care is a right, then making good choices regarding my own health behavior is equally a responsibility. As my wife wisely and frequently reminds me, those aspects of my health I can control, I should control. In addition, I should care about my own health, but I should also care how my poor health can negatively impact my neighbor through potentially contributing to higher health care costs. Baha'u'llah said it this way, "Beseech ye the one true God to grant that ye may taste the savor of such deeds as are performed in His path, and partake of the sweetness of such humility and submissiveness as are shown for His sake. Forget your own selves, and turn your eyes towards your neighbor"(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 9).

Thinking seriously about self-care reform is not about absolving government of its responsibility to fix a broken system. It is about making a mental shift toward considering self-care as a contribution to the social good. It might even provide some added motivation to do the healthy thing when I'd rather not. Making such a mental shift is similar to thinking more about how my personal choices can negatively or positively impact the environment. It means adopting a world embracing vision of the spiritual and social implications of my health behavior. I cannot justly demand that society provide for my well-being without being willing to contribute to the well-being of society. Making efforts at self-care reform is a way for me to make such a contribution, however small it may be. As the late Michael Jackson would have put it, I have to start with the man in the mirror.

"the honor and distinction of the individual consist in this, that he among all the world's multitudes should become a source of social good. Is any larger bounty conceivable than this, that an individual, looking within himself, should find that by the confirming grace of God he has become the cause of peace and well-being, of happiness and advantage to his fellow men? No, by the one true God, there is no greater bliss, no more complete delight." (Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 2)