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How to save $1400 every year (or more) by eating healthy

Health care costs in the United States are the highest of any other nation, but we’re some of the unhealthiest people given our wealth.  We have more diagnostic tests, yet fewer doctors, fewer hospitals, and shorter hospital stays than abroad. Basically, that means that it all comes down to high prices.

Compounding to the cost is our trigger-happy medical culture.  What I mean is that even though doctors and patients discuss and choose the best treatment option, our society is apt to aggressive treatment (more so than countries with stricter tort laws or that emphasize keeping costs down).  Aggressive treatment wouldn’t be a bad thing if people were getting better faster however; health outcomes in the US are not higher than in other countries (except for those related to cancer).

In addition to the actual cost of care, those who are obese place greater strain on the system.  A person who is obese will spend about 42% more than someone who is normal weight.  Obese persons are more likely to have hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes which can cause serious, potentially fatal episodes – leading to busy emergency rooms and longer hospital stays. 

The high cost extends beyond personal expense.  Employers have greater costs too, such as a larger number of medical claims, more employee absenteeism due to sick days, and higher payouts for disability and life insurance.

One of the characteristics of efficient health care systems is an emphasis on primary care.  Keeping patients out of hospitals and decreasing the length of stay can significantly keep costs down.  Basically, preventative health care is the way to go.

In my opinion, a key factor of a preventative care system is accountability.  We have to be held accountable and hold others accountable.  And I don’t mean placing blame – I mean demanding responsibility.  Big food and fast food have greatly contributed to the obesity epidemic, public schools are striking gym class from students’ curriculum and many adults work more than one job – making it nearly impossible to get exercise and rest. 

The time to develop healthy habits is in childhood (aka in school), before kids have developed unhealthy patterns.  Gym class should be fun because exercise shouldn’t feel like a task – especially since the release of endorphins actually improves mood and energy.  So, in addition to gym, here’s my modern approach to Home Ec 101:

  1. Food preparation and basic nutrition – cooking skills and basic nutrition knowledge
  2. Personal and lifestyle management – how to live on a budget, develop healthy routines, and plan for the future
  3. Sexual and reproductive health – basic sex ed.  Teens who receive sex education are more prepared to deal with the realities of being an adult, enabling to care for themselves and others responsibly.

Focusing on accountability can shift health care to be a preventative system.  Medical costs are too high in the United States and while my plan isn’t perfect, let’s starting talking about what reducing medical costs would actually look like on the ground.

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