What a sad commentary that our government has stooped to such low levels as to put special interests ahead of the health of men, women, and most of all, children.

Talk continues as to how to cut the cost of “healthcare” (which is really disease care) and Neal Barnard, M.D. has a suggestion that could save billions of dollars.  Barnard is an adjunct associate professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine, and president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.  He is one of America’s leading advocates for health, nutrition and higher standards in research.

            The next item on the congress’s to-do list is the farm bill and the biggest-ticket item in the farm bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-known as SNAP, or food stamps.  Barnard says billions of SNAP dollars go for candy and junk food.  He said, “As a doctor, I want to cut the junk food from SNAP and that will appeal to the Republicans’ fiscal sense and make millions of people healthier, making Obamacare more affordable.”  He says food stamps shouldn’t be used to purchase junk food.

            Bernard’s common sense is amazing compared to the pitiful healthcare initiatives.  He says that preventing the chronic diseases that cause seven out of every 10 deaths in America could save billions of dollars and millions of lives every year. Lifting this weight would increase productivity and lessen the financial drain on low-income Americans and large corporations alike. Fortunately, this is easy enough to do; chronic diseases are largely preventable and treatable through modest changes in diet and lifestyle.

            Last month Rep. Phil Roe and cosponsor Rep Andy Harris, both of whom are physicians, quietly introduced the Healthy Food Choices Act of 2013 (H.R.3073).  It offers a federal plan to improve the program's nutritional content, a move that could save millions in federal health care costs.  This Healthy Food Choices act would increase opportunities for the hungry to make healthier food choices, since it would increase access to fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods essential to proper nutrition.  It would create demand for healthful foods, as did the WIC program upon which SNAP would be modeled.

            Bernard writes, “Making SNAP healthier by eliminating meat, soda, processed snack foods and candy from the program's purchasing standards is a sensible idea. These unhealthful foods have no place in a taxpayer-funded program designed to improve low-income Americans' nutrition. And removing them from the program would be consistent with the concerns of mayoral leaders who represent millions of Americans.”

            The Healthy Food Choices bill simply calls for food stamp purchasing standards to align with those of the nutritional program for Women, Infants, and Children – essentially removing junk food from the program. We can't expect this humble piece of legislation to lift the country out of an economic crisis, eliminate costly chronic disease and alleviate poverty – much less end our current quagmire. But it could be an important part of a larger paradigm shift to bring about a financially stable and physically healthier America. The two would complement each other.

            At least 25 years ago, a radio commentator said the poverty and hunger problem could be solved very simply while improving America’s health at the same time. He suggested we have a barrel of rice and another of beans in every supermarket in America and let everyone take as much as they wanted.  It would do away with a lot of government red tape; help farmers, save a lot of money for taxpayers who would not be paying for processed junk food that destroys health, and the diseases they cause.  Adding a voucher with which you could buy only fresh fruits and vegetables would create a healthy tasty diet. 

            A friend said neither of these things, the food stamp improvement law or the barrels of rice and beans, would ever be implemented because there is too much money being made by the junk food industries and the pharmaceutical industries that profit from the diseases they cause.  They are some of the most influential political lobbyists –paying politicians to keep them in business.

            What a sad commentary that our government has stooped to such low levels as to put special interests ahead of the health of men, women, and most of all, children. How sad it is that citizens have been kept ignorant about what comprises a healthy life and that the average American does not have confidence that he can influence his/her health; that the body is a self healer when it has half a chance.  It is a disgrace that most people know more about how to take care of their car than they do themselves and that they value the car more.

            A famous person said something like, “two percent of the people make things happen; five percent watch things happen; and the rest say, ‘What happened?!’”  It seems to me this is just about where we are concerning our health.  It is high time to turn this around.

            Healthy Food Choices Act of 2013 (H.R.3073 represents an opportunity to start addressing the rising toll of chronic disease – especially among those whose health and economic resources are already disadvantaged. By doing so, we will reduce government spending and improve our country's health. Now that's something that all lawmakers should be able to support.  Let’s make sure they do!

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)