What we eat has far-reaching repercussions — not only for our health, but also our economy.
One of those repercussions is the increasing cost of health care due to chronic diseases like diabetes. A study published earlier this year by Diabetes Canada shows that nearly one in three Canadians have diabetes or prediabetes, which is costing the Canadian health-care system $30 billion per year — a staggering number that doesn’t include other illnesses linked to diet and lifestyle.
Dr. Mark Hyman, one of the world’s most outspoken proponents of all-natural, healthy food and author of the book “Food Fix,” notes that the biggest worry in developed countries like Canada is not that people are going to bed hungry, but that they’re going to bed overweight, which significantly reduces one’s life expectancy.
But it’s not just how much we’re eating, it’s what we’re eating: processed foods that are laced with industrial fats, chemicals, preservatives, stabilizers, artificial colours and simulated flavours.
Unhealthy eating has the biggest impact on the poor. My friend Ron Finley is trying to help some of the poorest people in inner-city America by inspiring them to grow their own healthy, all-natural food. I first met Ron when I was working on a proposal to create an urban farm in a low-income, crime-ridden neighbourhood in downtown Baltimore.
Ron is one of the most vocal advocates of the impact of food on our lives. Calling himself a “guerrilla gardener,” he encourages urban farming in inner cities, which he claims are often “food deserts” filled with liquor stores and drive-through fast food outlets.
In one of his mostly widely viewed TED Talk videos, he says that in many inner cities in America today, the “drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys.” Ron goes on to note that people living in poor urban neighbourhoods like South Central Los Angeles typically have higher rates of diseases that are linked to poor nutrition.
He has developed a gardening training facility and program known as the Ron Finley Project, which encourages urban residents to come together and grow their own food, using the catchy slogan: “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”
Unhealthy eating also affects the ability of children to learn — something Hyman and many other medical experts describe as an “achievement gap.” Children from highly educated, high-income families tend to have much healthier diets. But it’s not fair that wealthy kids have a better shot at good health and educational performance than children from low-income families simply because they can afford more expensive food.
This is why I’ve been pushing to have organic breakfast and lunch meals served in all schools across Canada. It’s also one of the main reasons why I created a national non-profit organization to teach children about the benefits of eating organic foods and to lobby governments and school boards to implement policies and programs that enhance the nutrition and health of all children.
The non-profit organization is currently planning to carry out a pilot study with a major Canadian university. The study will track the health of approximately 300 students over the period of a year to see if we can measure tangible improved health outcomes from switching to an all-organic diet. We could use this preliminary data as part of a larger national study to analyze the potential ability of an organic diet to reduce health-care costs, and whether organic eating could play a major role in future preventative health-care strategies.
Food has a profound impact on so many aspects of our life. It’s not something we often think about when we’re having dinner or grabbing a meal at a fast-food restaurant, but it affects our health and our social and economic well-being, as well as our children’s ability to learn.
There’s a huge cost attached to food — costs that are paid for down the road and far beyond the farms and supermarkets where food is grown and sold. The puzzling question is: why do we continue to ignore the economics attached to something so far-reaching and pervasive?
Frank Stronach is the founder of Magna International Inc., one of Canada’s largest global companies, and an inductee in the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Frank Stronach: Teaching kids the importance of healthy eating
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