grocery store aisles

Is Being Healthy Truly a Priority?

grocery store aislesFor most, 21st century reality puts a lot of distance between us and where our food comes from. That food is often more manufactured than grown, using processes you couldn’t replicate in your own kitchen and ingredients you just won’t find at your local Ralph’s, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or any other grocery store.

We also have more food choices than our ancestors could have likely imagined. And with family ties and traditions being looser, less often is a body of food knowledge handed down to future generations. We’re often left to fend for ourselves.

So we turn to various “experts” – both proven and self-proclaimed – to help us navigate this crazy food landscape we’ve wound up in. Industry has happily stepped forward, too, with groups like the International Food Information Council, which say they exist to “communicate science-based information on food safety and nutrition.” The reality, though, is a bit different.

In reality, IFIC is a public relations arm of the food, beverage and agricultural industries, which provide the bulk of its funding. Its staff members hail from industry groups such as the Sugar Association and the National Soft Drink Association, and it has repeatedly led the defense for controversial food additives including monosodium glutamate, aspartame (Nutrasweet), food dyes, and olestra. It also runs the corporate-friendly website,, with games and recipes for kids.

One of the less problematic and more interesting things they do is an annual food and health survey to gauge consumer trends. Though their reporting presents the info in such a way to continue to justify the peddling of products that may be chemically laden and nutritionally suspect, the data can sometimes be eye-opening.

That’s certainly the case with this year’s report, What’s Your Health Worth?, which was released earlier this month.

For instance, according to this survey, 57% of Americans rate their current health as “very good” or excellent,” and 62% of them report not being treated for several chronic conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Yet that means almost 40% are – a figure just a touch below CDC figures, which show that nearly half of all adult Americans are currently dealing with at least one chronic health conditions. One in four has at least two conditions.

How do you explain this disjoint? Perhaps it’s because we have a tendency to think of “health” only as the absence of symptoms. If we aren’t experiencing symptoms, we “must” be healthy, right? Yet by the time we experience symptoms, we can in fact be quite sick.

For instance, cavitations – areas of dead and decaying flesh often found below healed-over surgical sites – can develop without any noticeable symptoms at all, and the infection travel throughout the body. Since they aren’t easily visible on traditional x-rays, a dentist may not identify them unless he or she is actively looking for them. That usually happens only after systemic illness arises and either an integrative physician suspects their presence or the individual asks whether oral issues might be contributing to their health problems.

The illness doesn’t arise when symptoms do. Symptoms are the expression of growing illness – and signs of the body’s attempt to heal.

We might ask just how much a priority our health is to us anyway. Here, the survey’s findings overall suggest that it might not be an especially high one for a lot of people – but not necessarily because they don’t want to be healthy or don’t care. Rather, there’s a lot else competing for attention and other resources.

For instance, nearly half of respondents said that if they had 4 extra hours every week, they would use that time to exercise or cook more – both key components of maintaining good health. Yet when it comes to money, we seem a lot less interested. When asked what they would do with an extra $100 each month, 61% said they’d save it, invest it or use it to pay off debt. Just 13% said they’d use it for food and 9% for a gym membership or other athletic pursuit – even though investing in a higher quality diet or more physical activity can actually save you even more money in the long run.

When something really matters to us, we find a way to make room for it in our lives. We find time to do the fun things we want to do or to meet our obligations. We juggle our schedules to make time for family and friends. We make trade-offs all the time, sacrificing this to get that.

Is being healthy one of your priorities? What can and will YOU do to create and sustain optimal health in your life? It might help to think of it in a way we recently noticed on Facebook:



Grocery store image by Nicholas Eckhart, via Flickr