Monday, January 23, 2012

Education, not legislation, is the key to lower healthcare spending.

Our blog has moved. You will find this blog post and fresh content on our new Talascend IT blog.
In 2005, the British chef and media personality Jamie Oliver launched a highly successful campaign to raise awareness of the poor quality of food being served in British schools. The result was to transform the way Britain thinks about school food, delivering healthier, balanced meals and most importantly, educating children early about the benefits of eating properly. Oliver himself was awarded an MBE by the Queen (a civilian medal of honor for service to the country.) His approach has been used with great success across Europe.

Then he came to America.

You can watch the details of Oliver’s treatment at the hands of US school employees he met and the US media in general on YouTube (‘We don’t want to eat lettuce all day, who made you king?’) sufficed to say he was shot down in flames from minute one, and he returned home having failed completely.

Recent discussion about the growing cost of healthcare delivery remains focused on the level of investment necessary to keep the nation healthy, but to endlessly debate legislation and government investment misses the long term issue entirely.

The spiraling cost of healthcare in the US may be the direct result of defensive medicine, malpractice and government mandated programs like EHR, but there is no question where the real answer to reduced health care spending lays – healthier people.

It is education and not legislation that is the real answer.

The British chef and campaigner for healthy food 
in schools suffered a series of media beatings.
When Jamie Oliver was sent packing so emphatically by a firmly united front of American education workers, local media and national TV personalities, this country missed a major opportunity to start the move toward lower healthcare costs. 

Regular exercise, healthy eating and the limitation of obviously dangerous practices like smoking and heavy drinking are the keys to lower spending. This begins and ends with personal choices. The earlier we begin to encourage these choices the better.

One of the many reasons David Letterman gave Jamie Oliver (a long time friend of his incidentally) for why he would fail was the power of fast food chains. They’re not going anywhere, he says.

A typical McDonalds in London
McDonalds is not going away, but it can be forced to evolve. In the UK, it has. Gone are the gaudy red signs and plastic furniture, in favor of subtle dark green and high-spec leather chairs. Salads are not an after thought, they are a key part of the menu, as are many other healthy choices. You can still get a Big Mac if you want one, but McDonalds knows its future success depends on delivering more healthy options because they are simply what the consumer wants.

We the people are in charge of what fast food chains serve. We have the power in the long term to reduce the cost of healthcare in this country through the way we live. It’s happening in other countries, we could make it happen here.  

This would dramatically shift the debate about healthcare spending.