Does an apple a day really work?
by Fred E. Foldvary
You can shrink your lifetime medical costs by eliminating the food tax you impose on yourself. Just as taxes on wages and goods impose an excess burden on the economy, eating too much of animal products imposes an excess burden on your body, causing disease.
It has been conventional wisdom that for optimal health, one should avoid processed food and too much fat, salt, and sugar. But comprehensive evidence has now found that animal products are unhealthy. The China-Oxford-Cornell Diet and Health Project, known as the China Study, has found that eating meat and milk products increases the risk of getting diabetes, heart problems, cancer, and other diseases.
The findings, based on 8000 statistically significant links between dietary factors and disease, are in the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II. Critics of the book, such as in Wise Traditions, say that the book is too sweeping in its conclusions from the study, but the authors also base their conclusions on their own experience and other studies.
The China Study was conducted by a partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. The subjects who ate plant foods lived longer and healthier lives than those who ate meat and dairy. Also, vitamin pills and other supplements are not a good substitute for a good diet. Supplements provide nutritional insurance if one’s diet is already healthy. Exercise is also helpful for health, but diet is more important.
Our culture is a powerful enemy of good nutrition. Almost all the food in a cafeteria, restaurant, or food store is unhealthy. Go to a party, and they will offer cookies, cakes, and fatty little dumplings. Doctors contribute to the problem, as few of them study nutrition, and few have read the China Study. Ask a doctor if it is good to eat meat, and the standard answer will be, “Yes, in moderation.”
Government contributes to the problem. First they subsidize the mass production of grains, which indirectly subsidizes the production of pork and beef. Americans then get sick eating pasta and meat, and so the government subsidizes their medical costs. The huge and growing spending for medicate is a result of subsidized bad diets.
Very few of those who read this article will be persuaded to change their diets, which is good, because you should read the book and other studies to judge for yourself. But few who read this article will go on to read about The China Study or even look at the book’s web site. The human mind is naturally conservative and lazy, and few will seek out new information even if it could well save you from a painful early death.
Nature played a cruel trick on us by making cheese and cooked meat taste good, but one can imagine a skull and crossbones when one sees these goodies, and one can enjoy healthy foods such as cherries and lychee fruit.
There are many reforms that need to be made to slash medical costs. These include changing the tax system to avoid favoring employer-provided insurance, changing the legal system to loser-pays for lawsuits, legalizing all drugs and medical services, and eliminating laws that mandate various insurance provisions. But the greatest reform of all is to prevent disease.
Economically enlightened folks often wonder why the world resists the efficiency tax shift that replaces punitive taxes on wages and goods with levies on land value. Think about why you are now resisting making a radical change in your diet. Such self-reflection will then give you a hint about why others resist healthy economic policies.
This article first appeared in the Progress Report, www.progress.org. Reprinted with permission.
Dr. Fred Foldvary teaches economics at Santa Clara University and is the author of several books: The Soul of Liberty, Public Goods and Private Communities, and the Dictionary of Free-Market Economics.