Everything that’s good for us is being sacrificed to the economy
How do we even start improving our health when powerful forces conspire against it?
There are multiple ways to slice and dice it, but roughly speaking there are five pillars of good health:
- a varied plant-focused diet,
- lots of movement that makes our hearts beat and our muscles flex throughout the day,
- plenty of sleep,
- well-managed stress,
- and feeling connected to loved ones and community.
Some version of those health foundations are present in frameworks including for example Dr. Dean Ornish’s “Undo It!” program for chronic disease prevention and reversal (notably suitable for heart disease and diabetes). Another great example is Drs. Ayesha and Dean Sherzai’s “NEURO Plan” to prevent and reverse Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and cognitive decline in general.
It’s ridiculous that we must have highly trained, expensive professionals to tell us that in order to believe it. But, hey, eating well and treating our bodies, minds, and neighbors with kindness is good for us, so if physicians are on board with spreading the news, I’m supportive.
Unfortunately, between knowing the glaring truth and implementing it in the lives of millions, there’s a set of social and economic circumstances that conspire to do the exact opposite of all those healthy things. Here is a non-exclusive list of health-pillar-smashing forces:
- Subsidies and fiscal incentives that promote a commodity-focused agriculture designed to produce more cheaper meat and animal products — the opposite of a plant-forward diet.
- Urban sprawl that makes the majority sit in their cars an hour or more every day to get to work, school, and shops — sedentary lifestyles where exercise must be will-powered into jam-packed schedules.
- Degraded labor conditions that reduce protection for workers in case of illness or accident, plus stagnating wages (while the cost of living increases), leading to stressful lives, the need to combine multiple jobs to make ends meet, and loss of sleep and leisure time.
- Emphasis on production and consumption of material goods (in part as a misguided attempt to cure stress and fill in for community), putting most people in debt and increasing stress for all — to say nothing of pollution.
- Specialized healthcare systems that emphasize surgical and pharmacological management (which have clear economic benefits for medical equipment and drug suppliers) as opposed to lifestyle-based prevention — and that’s only for those who can afford it. (Others do without or get into debt and experience more stress.)
- High levels of debt (notably from education) that make us chase “better” work opportunities across the country (or out of it), stretching our social networks thin and moving them online where they are preyed upon by companies that sells our attention span to advertisers.
- Unregulated real estate markets that treat housing like a commodity, further increasing the cost of living and pushing many to either migrate to lower-cost communities or take on more work.
- Racialized discrimination and white domination in all areas above, and beyond, from labor to housing, from policing to healthcare, further aggravating all of the above.
I’m just getting started, but you get the picture.
How can we fight back for our health?
If you are still with me (if perhaps a little stunned), now is the time to ask ourselves: what can we do to fight for our health in the face of such powerful forces?
Health is something we usually conceive of as individual and connected to our personal choices, and certainly there is some truth to that. Against all odds, there are people who start making changes every day and we have to support them however we can. Those who have success stories and managed to reclaim ownership of their health through lifestyle change deserve to see their achievements celebrated. Yes!
But we also must appreciate the profoundly systemic nature of our poor health, and join forces to increase health justice for all.
Where to start? Here’s just one way to do it:
Pick the health-opposing force above that bothers you most and find one other person — or an organization — that feels the same. Then, start chipping at it.
Which one is it going to be for you?