As the election approaches, I have seen passionate conversations about healthcare from voters and from both parties. But I have been extremely saddened to see that a focus on nutrition is missing. This is particularly disappointing, because many of our health issues are so prevalent because of our diet. All Americans must deem nutrition a central issue in our country and take the need to overhaul our healthcare system seriously to reflect it. Nutrition is a nonpartisan issue, and our country is not showing it the attention it deserves.
In the past months, I’ve been to a doctor’s office too many times, not because of COVID-19, but because of Crohn’s Disease. During the 1990s, my brother was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. In 1996, I married a man with this condition. But it wasn’t until 2013, when my eldest son had major health issues, that I began to ask questions. I sought out doctor after doctor, anxiously trying to figure out how best to help him. At times, I was so run down, I would cry to the doctors, “what is wrong with my son?” He had huge headaches, was extremely nauseous, almost thrown out of school and bullied by other students because of his absences.
In the spring of 2017, my older son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.
For nearly a decade, I have been relentlessly researching the condition that is so rampant in my family. After reviewing the diet in some European countries, I noticed that chronic illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease have been on the rise in the United States, especially when compared to Europe. A 2007 study by Ken Thorpe of Emory University states that older U.S. citizens are twice as likely to develop chronic diseases than EU members. According to The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, “Research studies continue to show a rise in the number of people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Approximately 1.6 million Americans currently have IBD, a growth of about 200,000 since the last time reported (in 2011). As many as 70,000 new cases of IBD are diagnosed in the United States each year.”
Studies have shown that chronic diseases can be controlled and sometimes averted with diet and lifestyle habits. Dr. Philip Goglia, PhD. in nutritional science from Duke University, explains that an incorrect food combination leads to “severe risk for life-threatening health conditions such as heart disease, cancers, high blood pressure, stroke, IBS/IBD, diabetes, and atherosclerosis.” The Personalized Nutrition Initiative (PNI), led by Sharon Donovan, PhD., RD at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was launched this year to answer fundamental questions about how nutritionregulates health and disease across one’s lifespan.
Part of that difference in chronic illness rates between the United States and Europe may be due to the fact that some foods and agricultural practices are banned in Europe. According to the Roni Caryn Rabin of The New York Times, “The European Union prohibits or severely restricts many food additives that have been linked to cancer that are still used in American-made bread, cookies, soft drinks and other processed foods. Europe also [bans] the use of several drugs that are used in farm animals in the United States, and many European countries limit the cultivation import of genetically modified foods.” In the United States, why haven’t we reviewed the impact of pesticides, preservatives, artificial dyes/flavorings and plastics and heavy metals?
In 2010, Former First Lady Michelle Obama organized Let’s Move! and planted the White House Kitchen Garden torespond to and instruct children and their families about obesity. She hoped to create a new future with this initiative, noting “I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.” Michelle Obama currently collaborates with another organization, Partnership for a Healthier America, to publicize a nutritious and physical lifestyle. People like Michelle Obama need to demonstrate and educate certain philosophies to the rest of their family.
We, as a community, need to support this agenda and explore the role a healthy diet may play in preventing some of the most dangerous diseases. Our nutritional education needs some growth. We are just beginning to understand the effects of food on our body and long-term health. As Dr. Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, clarifies, “There’s been a democratization of knowledge, and so until the system changes, we have to take personal responsibility for our own health and for our family’s health. We can’t wait until society catches up with the science, because it’s a matter of life and death.” How many people have to develop health problems before we learn to eat healthy, take care of ourselves, and demand quality food?
How many people have to develop health problems before we learn to eat healthy, take care of ourselves, and demand quality food?
In order to strengthen our country, we need to take preventive measures and care for our neighbors. While developing significant remedies to solve chronic conditions, we also improve immunity, stress, nutrition, diet, and lifestyle. First, we can start by adding laws that protect our society, and, in the end, we can spend less on corrective healthcare. “Chronic diseases are among the most prevalent and costly health conditions in the United States.” according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
As a Jewish parent, nutrition means everything to me! Our culture is influenced by food. Our cuisine is a tradition. Jewish food is visible with every holiday. I have faith in the idea of family, teaching the core of the household how to maintain a nutritional diet. As a Jew, I hope the next generation will have the crucial tools that we currently lack.
In December of 2019, my youngest son was also diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, weighing only 85 pounds, at 5’6”. He mentioned that he is afraid to marry another Jewish person. Similar genes can be passed to his children. He does not want his kids to have Crohn’s Disease and “go what he’s gone through.” If we start discussing nutrition and lifestyle now, people with pre-existing conditions may benefit from the alterations in their diet in the future.
Pamela L. Schoenberg is a cultural, multi-media artist and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Mills College.