by T Colin Campbell, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor Emeritus, Cornell University
Few issues have become so intensely debated and politically charged as the need to reform the health care system. This debate has resulted in the ObamaCare program (The Affordable Care Act), which aims to expand and improve health care, thereby reducing health care costs.
Presently, US health care costs constitute 18% of GDP, up from about 5% around 1970 (1). These costs are burdensome and many sectors of our society are paying the price. School programs are being scaled back because of the escalating costs of retiree health care benefit programs, as illustrated in Michigan where they are “laying off teachers, scrapping programs and mothballing extracurricular activities…[because of]…health care bills of retirees.“(2). About 60% of personal bankruptcies are now attributed to medical care costs (3) and these rising costs are eroding family incomes (4), among many other devastating outcomes.
It is also far from evident that the almost four-fold increase in the costs of healthcare (as a percent of our dollars) since the 1970s is leading to better health outcomes.
A solution is urgently needed but, in my opinion, this will not happen if we depend on the health care reform proposals offered in recent years, either from the political right or the political left. These proposals mostly concern who will pay a bill that is dependent on the use of expensive pills and procedures. This is not the needed solution because it ignores a strategy that decreases demand for services by improving health.
Current prevention programs are inadequate
Present day wellness programs are mostly cosmetic. Advisories to quit smoking, wear seat belts, use stairs not elevators, monitor blood pressure, use alcohol in moderation, and exercise regularly, make medical sense but, except possibly for smoking cessation, I don’t see how they can have much effect on improving health and reducing health care costs. Similarly, the United States Department of Agriculture makes dietary recommendations (think Food Pyramid) but these also are modest, at best, and highly questionable at worst (5).
As a consequence, by relying on modest or ineffective dietary and lifestyle recommendations (6,7) the health care system as a whole allows, even encourages, the use of very expensive pills and procedures. Consider, for example, the preventive component of the new ObamaCare program (3). This program wants to offer “free preventive women’s services, including mammograms,” to ensure “that there are no out-of-pocket costs on patients receiving … colonoscopies and provide lower prescription drug costs for people on Medicare.” These will cost money but there is little evidence they will significantly improve overall outcomes (8-10).
Much the same criticism can be made of personalized medicine and other projects of corporations (11) and governments (12) to target medical interventions to specific organs, ailments and individuals (14). I can find little or no evidence that these measures will improve health and decrease demand for health care services. In fact, I suggest (and the pharmaceutical industry hopes) that the thrust of personalized medicine will increase the use of pharmaceuticals as doctors will target illnesses detected earlier.
Add to this the alarming statistic that the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is the use and misuse of pills and procedures (15). Is it any wonder we have an ineffective, costly health care system? Our health care system is travelling a path to self-destruction, regardless of who pays the bill.
When I examine the various proposals made in recent years to reform this system, I see all as having one remarkably consistent omission. It is our neglect of the remarkable ability of nutrition to promote health and decrease illness. I particularly refer to the emerging evidence on the exceptional health benefits provided by a whole food plant-based (WFPB) diet—or should I say, re-emerging evidence. Re-emergence because the idea of the healing power of food has been around at least since the time of ancient Greece. Hippocrates said it best when he exclaimed, “Let food be thy medicine.”
I am referring here not only to the well-known ability of nutrition to prevent diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes but to the ability of the WFPB diet to actually treat and thus reverse diseases that are already diagnosed or forecast by out-of-range risk factors.
A WFPB diet (5) is defined as one rich in antioxidants and complex carbohydrates. It also avoids animal-based foods, refined carbohydrates, and added fat typically used to make processed, convenience foods. The remarkable health benefits of the WFPB diet is attributed to its being naturally low in fat (10-12% of diet calories), low in protein (10-12% of calories), high in complex carbohydrates (75-80% of calories) and abundant in natural vitamins and minerals.
The science behind a WFPB diet is compelling. A WFPB lifestyle is effective in the short and long terms against a broad spectrum of diseases and ailments (16,17). Population-level studies show lower chronic disease rates the closer diets approximate the nutritional composition of a WFPB dietary lifestyle (7,18). That is, these population studies show the effects on a long term basis and that this dietary lifestyle serves the body’s innate biological tendency to repair itself and so constantly create health. But a WFPB diet can also act to reverse disease progression in a manner that is surprisingly fast (a few days to a few weeks). Such a diet can therefore function as a medical treatment.
The remarkable treatment effects are best documented in a clinical trial for patients with advanced heart disease (19-21). In one published study (19), seriously ill heart patients (i.e., 49 cardiac events during eight years prior to dietary intervention) cured themselves of coronary heart disease by adopting the WFPB dietary lifestyle. Now, 26 years later, five have passed but none from coronary disease (22). Additionally, the occurrence of cancer in these individuals is only about 10% of that expected (23). These results are unprecedented in a clinical trial.
In a 74-week study on type 2 diabetics (24), a close approximation of the WFPB diet decreased body weight, serum HbA1c (the preferred clinical indicator for Type 2 diabetes) and blood lipid levels even more than a companion group who adopted the traditional American Diabetes Association diet (25). The WFPB dietary effect is so pronounced that in our experience it may cause hypoglycemic shock among those who continue their insulin enhancing medications (personal communications: J McDougall, N. Bernard, and TN Campbell).
Additionally, a rich body of evidence has come to light in recent years to support the ability of a WFPB diet to suspend progression of, or even reverse, serious diseases like melanoma (26), prostate cancer (27), multiple sclerosis (28), rheumatoid arthritis (McDougall, J. Diet: only hope for arthritis. McDougall Newsletter (2002) and many other diseases (5). The breadth of this dietary effect both to prevent and to reverse such a diversity of diseases and ailments is truly remarkable.
Much of the benefit of a WFPB diet originates from the avoidance of cow’s milk protein, the most biologically active protein of animal origin yet known, which in experiments markedly promotes cancer development (29-31). A discussion of the multiple mechanisms accounting for this effect on cancer may be found elsewhere (5). Cow milk also elevates serum cholesterol (total, LDL) as well as early lesions that lead to heart disease (32, 33), decreases the production of cells that repair heart vessel damage (34) and is the major cause of early childhood allergies (35, 36).
It is now abundantly clear that the health restoring effect offered by the WFPB diet is greater than that of modern medicine. The WFPB treats a broader range of diseases, it is more effective, and it acts just as fast or even faster. Nor, importantly, is it typically reliant on a detailed diagnosis. Were a composite pill made containing the best of all known pharmaceutical drugs, such a pill could not compare with the benefits of a WFPB diet. When the lesser side effects are taken into account, it is no contest. Thus nutrition is now in a position to displace modern medicine as the treatment of choice for chronic disease.
Seeing the diet, not the nutrient
A common question asked by many people is why has this remarkable information not been widely shared and why is it so foreign for so many people. Sad to say, the general topic of nutrition—irrespective of any particular brand of nutrition—is almost never taught in medical schools and receives only meager funding from federal agencies. As a result, the public must rely on corporate messages (generously offered) that are far more concerned about marketing products, not about promoting human health. These messages are supported, if at all, only by evidence obtained on out-of-context nutrient-rich products and supplements.
I acquired this more comprehensive view of nutrition after spending decades initiating and directing well-funded academic research and teaching programs in nutritional science (my funding was obtainable because it was deemed cancer research!) and after participating for decades on expert panels in food and health policy development. My own community of nutrition research colleagues has been doing honorable, sincere work for a long time, but we also have been working within a paradigm that is largely responsible for miscommunicating this science to the public. We are good at researching details but come up short describing how these details can be assembled into a fabric of information that is useful for the public. We work well with the threads of the tapestry, not on the tapestry itself, unless that tapestry is woven to please the gods of the corporate world.
The food and drug corporate complex increasingly infiltrates and corrupts academic research (5). It also helps steer food and health policy and public nutrition information in a direction of their liking. Such mischief becomes possible because of a fundamental flaw in how we think about the concepts of biology, nutrition and medicine. We focus on parts but fail, miserably, to see the whole. When we rely only on parts, almost any health claim can be made to look good. This deeply embedded reductionist practice occurs in response to a “free market system” that requires a system of intellectual property protection that depends on a description of parts, appropriately patented and specifically described. In nutrition, this means relying on individual nutrients; in medical practice, this means relying on drugs.
Nowhere, in my opinion, is this flaw of worshipping biological parts rather than the whole more damaging than it is in the science of nutrition and in the practice of medicine. In reality, nutritional efficacy is wholistic (‘w’ intended) but our research investigations of nutrition are reductionist. Reductionist details, when presented in isolation, cause massive confusion. As a result, everyone pays, both with their wallets and in lost health. Also, because the practice of medicine is constrained by procedures and treatments within a reductionist paradigm, it follows that wholistic nutrition does not fit into this practice. This is an extremely costly mismatch, with tragic consequences on so many accounts.
If there is a realistic hope of resolving the health care crisis, which extends into so many sectors of our society and our planet, it must begin by accepting nutrition as a wholistic concept. Communicating this to the public suggests that nutrition scientists should take the lead but, in doing so, it will be necessary for the academic community to cleanse itself of the numbing stranglehold of corporate control. Only by doing so can this professional community generate the public support that our discipline richly deserves.
To summarize, adoption of the WFPB dietary lifestyle offers far more health benefits than the modern medical system. For those who comply, current evidence shows that at least 90% of all cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, upwards of 70% of all cancers, and a broad spectrum of other illnesses can be prevented, even cured. Assuming that this message is effectively communicated, I estimate that at least 75% of contemporary health care costs could easily be saved. Sparing the side effects (often death) of the existing system would be a very large additional bonus.
It is now time to replace the current medical-based disease care system with a diet-based health care system as Hippocrates prompted us to think about two and a half thousand years ago. We face some extraordinary problems, health improvement, health care costs, serious environmental disarray, unforgiving violence and political polarization and discord. We are entitled to despair but only if we continue to rely on the same medical and health strategies that got us to this place. Based on the extraordinarily positive responses that I personally receive in my hundreds of lectures and the millions of readers of our books, I am optimistic. All we need to do is 1) honestly demonstrate this effect to the public and 2) develop affordable and convenient programs to facilitate transition and I am confident that exceptional progress can be made.
For the skeptics of this information, I say try it. You will see for yourself. Far more evidence for this opinion is available in The China Study (2005) (5) and in Whole (2013) (37) and also: Esselstyn, C. J. Prevent and reverse heart disease. (Avery Publishing, Penguin Group, 2007), Ornish, D. et al. “Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease?” Lancet 336, 129-133 (1990) and essays and books at <http://www.drmcdougall.com/health_10_day_program.html>. See also the websites: http://www.pcrm.org/, www.chiphealth.com/, and http://www.healthpromoting.com.
Footnote: Also, an online course on this topic (with 30 Category I CME and CEU credits) is available at nutritionstudies.org.
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19 Esselstyn, C. B., Jr. Updating a 12-year experience with arrest and reversal therapy for coronary heart disease (an overdue requiem for palliative cardiology). Am. J. Cardiol. 84, 339-341 (1999).
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21 Ornish, D. et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary heart disease? Lancet 336, 129-133 (1990).
22 Fulkerson, L. Forks over Knives; referring to Esselstyn patients 92 min (Monica Beach Productions, Santa Monica, CA, 2011).
23 Esselstyn, C. J. Personal communication. (2011-2013).
24 Barnard, N., Cohen, J. & Ferdowsian, H. A low-fat vegan diet and a conventional diabetes diet in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: a randomized, controlled, 74-wk clinical trial. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 89, 1588S-1596S (2009).
25 Franz, M. J. et al. Evidence-based nutrition principles and recommendations for the treatment and prevention of diabetes and related complications. Diabetes Care 26, S51-S61 (2003).
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27 Frattaroli, J. et al. Clinical events in prostate cancer lifestyle trial: results from two years of follow-up. Urology 72, 1319-1323 (2008).
28 Swank, R. L. Effect of low saturated fat diet in early and late cases of multiple sclerosis. Lancet 336, 37-39 (1990).
29 Campbell, T. C. Chemical carcinogens and human risk assessment. Fed. Proc. 39, 2467-2484 (1980).
30 Madhavan, T. V. & Gopalan, C. The effect of dietary protein on carcinogenesis of aflatoxin. Arch. Path. 85, 133-137 (1968).
31 Youngman, L. D. & Campbell, T. C. Inhibition of aflatoxin B1-induced gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase positive (GGT+) hepatic preneoplastic foci and tumors by low protein diets: evidence that altered GGT+ foci indicate neoplastic potential. Carcinogenesis 13, 1607-1613 (1992).
32 Meeker, D. R. & Kesten, H. D. Experimental atherosclerosis and high protein diets. Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 45, 543-545 (1940).
33 Meeker, D. R. & Kesten, H. D. Effect of high protein diets on experimental atherosclerosis of rabbits. Arch. Pathology 31, 147-162 (1941).
34 Foo, S. Y. et al. Vascular effects of a low carbohyrdate high protein-diet. Proc. National Acad. Sci 106, 15418-15423 (2009).
35 Vandenplas, Y., Steenhout, P., Planoudis, Y., Grathohl, D. & Althera Study Group. Treating cow’s milk allergy: a double-blind randomized trial comparing two extensively hydrolysed formulas with probiotics. Acta Paediatr. 102, 990-998 (2013).
36 Katz, A., Virk H., N., Yuan, Q. & Shreffler, W. Cows’ milk allergy: a new approach needed? J. Pediatr. 163, 620-622 (2013).
37 Campbell, T. C. Whole. Rethinking the science of nutrition. (BenBella Books, 2013).
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I have a question. Scientists routinely say words to the effect that “protein is protein”. Yet when pigs are transplanted into humans we reject their organs and the reason is that many pig proteins have added to them a sugar (Gal-alpha 1,3 Galactose) that provokes a strong immune response. This sugar is present on the proteins of all mammals except primates. It is not added to fish proteins, however. The antibody against this sugar epitope is reported to be the most common circulating antibody in the blood of most humans. My question is this: how much of the effect of removing animal proteins can be attributed to this sugar? Can the importance of this be ruled out based on your studies?
Your are referring to antigenic proteins which has no relationship, in effect, to dietary protein
What is missing from this is any mention of the quality of the plant based food, or, to quote Adelle Davis, “Which apricot, grown where?”
A plant food can contain no more nutrients than are made possible by the fertility and mineral balance of the soil in which it is grown,
The present healthcare system has demonstrated its unwillingness to incorporate clinically-proven lifestyle interventions including diet, and there is evidence that it actively opposes these modalities and the qualified professionals who prescribe them. In 1990 Ornish et al. published (Lancet ) proof of regression of coronary artery blockages using comprehensive lifestyle interventions without medications from the Lifestyle Heart Trial. In 1998 they published (JAMA ) proof of continued regression at 5 years. In 2002 Knowler et al. published (NEJM ) proof from the Diabetes Prevention Program that intensive lifestyle interventions are more effective than metformin plus NCEP Step I dietary recommendations in preventing type 2 diabetes. In fact, that trial was stopped early because the benefits of intensive lifestyle change were so much better that it was considered unethical to deny them to the control group. Yet, over a decade later, those very interventions are still not reimbursed by healthcare payers and thus not provided to patients. In 2003 Jenkins et al. published (JAMA ) proof that a combination of dietary changes was as effective as statin medication coupled with the NCEP Step II diet in reducing high cholesterol. In 2005 and 2006 they published (AJCN ) evidence of long-term equivalence. In 2004 the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (www.lifestylemedicine.org) was established to advance and promote the treatment of disease with these and other proven therapeutic lifestyle interventions. Though interest in this treatment model is high among practitioners who see the futility of failed pharmaceutical and surgical interventions, lack of reimbursement has stunted its growth and curtailed its influence.
It was not until 2010 that Medicare began a very limited reimbursement of lifestyle medical treatments after being ordered to do so by the US Congress.  Despite published scientific evidence and decades of clinical trials proving that lifestyle interventions are the preferred treatment for chronic disease, these modalities remain unreimbursed, suppressed by entrenched healthcare interests vested in conventional high-cost interventions. (Bypass surgeries and percutaneous coronary interventions are two of the most profitable procedures performed by hospitals and physicians. ) Much like the opposition manufactured by tobacco companies  to prevent sales of their harmful products from being curtailed or limited, pharmaceutical and device manufacturers seem to be conspiring to prevent lifestyle approaches from being made available to the patients who need them.  Not only is this wrong and unethical because it harms patients who could benefit from the treatments they believe they are paying for with their health insurance premiums, but it is also harming the US economy and societal infrastructure by draining finances to treat these conditions with expensive treatments of questionable benefit that come too late to make any real difference in longevity.
It is past time for change! It is time for class action against the healthcare entities aiding this denial of access to proven lifestyle interventions prescribed by qualified healthcare professionals. There is no stronger disincentive for an effective medical treatment than lack of reimbursement. Why do patients have to pay twice for their healthcare? Why should they pay for costly insurance that will only reimburse invasive treatments that come too late to cure or reverse, and also pay out of pocket for lifestyle treatments that are proven to reverse and cure the chronic diseases now killing more than 7 out of 10 persons in America? Is this acceptable? Is it not time the accumulated evidence demands change?!
John Kelly, MD, MPH
Founding President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine
1. Ornish DM, et al. Can lifestyle changes reverse coronary atherosclerosis? The Lifestyle Heart Trial. Lancet. 1990;336:129-133.
2. Ornish, D, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998;280:2001-2007.
3. Knowler WC, et al. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. NEJM. 2002;346:393-403.
4. Jenkins DJA, et al. Effects of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods vs lovastatin on serum lipids and C-reactive protein. JAMA. 2003;290:502-510.
5. Jenkins DJA, et al. Direct comparison of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods with a statin in hypercholesterolemic participants. AJCN. 2005;81:380-7.
Jenkins DJA, et al. Assessment of the longer-term effects of a dietary portfolio of cholesterol-lowering foods in hypercholesterolemia. AJCN. 2006;83:582-91.
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Professor Campbell advocates for the health promoting and therapeutic properties of plant foods to become a major point of discussion in the health care debate as an eloquent solution to many of our most costly problems. As he points out, there is remarkable evidence that demonstrates how nutrient rich plant foods protect us from acquiring many of the diet-related diseases and can even reverse them.
An additional missing link in our health care debate is the role education plays. There needs to be a parallel discussion connecting nutrition with education and why both of these areas are failing us because they do not take a (w)holistic approach. The United States is losing its stature in the world as demonstrated by global statistics in health and educational ratings. Yet there is widespread consensus that early education is critical in terms of setting the stage for life intellectually, emotionally, and physically. As a nation we keep cutting resources in these areas. Early nutrition is vital in promoting healthy development and needs to be integrated with early education. My research has clearly shown that children are very receptive to positive sensory education about food which broadens their palates (and minds) and that they become effective change agents in taking this message home to have positive impact on family eating behaviors – sometimes called the “trickle up effect.”
Ellen Richards, founder of the home economics movement which in its early days applied scientific principles to improve air, water, and food quality said in the late 1800’s, “Schools should not teach how to make a living before they teach how to live.” Our children are growing up not knowing how to grow their own food, where it comes from, how to cook whole foods, how nutrition affects their minds and bodies or how to care for the environment and each other. We need to make food literacy education a priority if we are going to have meaningful discussions about our future and that of the planet. (W)holistic nutrition linked with education about “how to live” needs to be part of this debate.
I believe you are right on the money. My question for you (us all…) is, How can we make the reforms needed? It seems our modern societal systems, from medicine to education to agriculture, are controlled by laws and policies that maintain vested interests and exclude those who would bring any change to the status quo. Nonetheless, like you, I am determined to do what ever I can to help as many as I can.
Thank you for your work in sensible nutrition education for children. John
From the UK:
The Daily Mail Today – Health Campaigners Shunned
“The food industry lobby has been given unprecedented access to the heart of government, a Daily Mail investigation has found.
Fast food companies, supermarkets, restaurant chains and chocolate and fizzy drinks firms have had dozens of meetings with ministers.
Yet health campaigners say they have been shunned – at a time when the Coalition has been resisting calls for tough laws to restrict the amount of sugar in food.”
I am wholly in agreement with this article. However it is apparent to me that only a revolution can change things. A billionaire (or two or three) might be convinced of the utterly senseless way Americans have accepted the offerings of current medical treatment. With enough force of their money the battle could be won. I rule out government help because the congress has no strength. It is bought out by the money of the pharmaceutical and medical establishment. With the money available the courts might be the answer. Pay the lawyers and sue enough until the situation changes. Educate the people enough to accept the changes.
I sense that the Americans are just beginning to understand how they are being cheated by the healthcare industry. There is a ragtag force of physicians and lay people who have seen and understand the fraud and are fighting the system but change will require much more force than they could muster.
We are, indeed, in need of a revolution.
For me, I will repeat the words that I wrote in Facebook. I will align myself with any person or organization that will fight to improve the poor health system extant in our country.
Thanks professor Campbell for your eloquent and timely article. However, I wish you had explained further the “whole food plant-based diet.” How is one to procure such a diet? I am also concerned you did not mention the word organic for food. After all, conventional food is routinely contaminated by pesticides, genetically engineered organisms etc. Certainly, Hippocrates was right that good food was medicine. But in a society like ours where industrialized agriculture dominates the countryside, finding good food (uncontaminated and nutritious) is problematic. This makes organically certified food a critical priority not merely for human health but for the health of the natural world.
Thank you and Question!
Thank you Dr. Campbell for so cogently and elegantly describing the multi-dimensional impacts of diet and health, and the benefits of a whole plant foods diet. Having long ago been a devotee of the Weston Price Foundation and a more ‘paleo’ approach to nutrition, I have come to appreciate the damage that high consumption of animal products can have on our longevity, health, and quality of life. I’ve seen conditions melt away after making this switch to all whole plants–autoimmune reversals, healing of asthma, recovery from cancer, allergy resolution. I work to re-design food systems, advocate for re-directing grant monies, to developing sound land practices that grow nutrient-rich plant foods, touting the link between a new generation of farming and health care. I would love to see nothing more that the shift of those trillions of dollars we spend on medical care to investments in resilient regional food systems, creating jobs for skilled growers and a new generation of farmers. As you know, many in the new farming movement are switching to grass-fed meat as part of their systems, believing that they are really doing a good thing, sequestering carbon via grazing practices, etc. Here’s the question I am hoping you can address that many in my community are asking: if you’re eating a lot of and a broad spectrum of high-nutrient plants and mushrooms, avoiding all processed and refined foods, eating from highly mineralized soils, (many I know are permaculturists)–does eating meat and eggs have a different impact? Are there any studies that measure the effect of animal products in the context of micro-nutrient richness? Would these effects be substantially different? I would like to be conversant in this area if you could offer any guidance. Many, many thanks. Melissa Hoffman
Thank you for keeping this in the forefront where it belongs.
I may not be a doctor but I did beat stage IV cancer without big pharma!!!! Today , to share what I learned, I have become a raw food educator and chef………..and a green juiceaholic!!!! Everyday I am driven to share this vital info. http://www.renewedlivinginc.com.
Thanks again, Elaine
This article is so correct! I am a physician, and appalled by today’s health care and big pharm medicine. After being vegan/wfpb for over a year, I feel the best I have in my life, have lost a lot of weight, am off of all medication, and have all good laboratory values. Not to mention how much more “ethical” I feel from knowing that no animals have suffered or died for me to eat them.
Looking forward to seeing/hearing you again on the holistic cruise, Colin!
I am working on my PhD in Health Science. I am pursuing my education with an accredited (WASC) university, but it is online (no lab & no statistics dept to help, but I can outsource either or both). I have finished all coursework, written & oral exams. I’m finishing up prospectus on a non WFPB topic & plan to move onto dissertation proposal, then dissertation. However, I am allowed to change the topic.
Previously, I was hoping there was a WFPB topic I could write about, as I concur that WFPB diet is crucial to both quality and quantity of life. However, I would need guidance (my husband is funding my education) to be able to achieve a PhD level study to contribute to the WFPB field. I was disappointed that there was no usable data for Dr. Klapper’s study nor Dr. McDougal’s food bank project in Northern California (with Berkeley).
I am not sure there will be much progress made unless there is adequate academic literature supporting a WFPB diet. Then, maybe we can have WFPB nutrition classes at every (community) college campus. This may move the mainstream future health care workers to have healthier lifestyle approaches to medicine. And, mainstream college students can utilize WFPB diet in their lives and the lives of their families. The WFPB message must permeate and echo through the halls of academia until the end of time in order to thrive. Otherwise, WFPB diet is like the seed that fell on rocky ground and never sprouted.
Hippocrates’ wisdom, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” emerged around 431 B.C. Today, with the discovery of epigenetics, we now know that food (fresh, real, whole food, the kind on which humankind survived and thrived) is, indeed, the solution to today’s healthcare crisis and pandemic of chronic conditions. This is because the emerging new science of epigenetics reveals the foods we eat switch genes on or off that can lead either to wellness or illness. But this “medicine of the future” does even more, for it provides a crystal ball not only into a person’s potential health, but also into that of children, even unborn generations. In other words, fresh, real, whole food can launch genes on a path that can activate “health” genes—often instantly—that promote a longer, healthier life; conversely, processed foods and what I call “chemical cuisine” do the inverse: they make our epigenes more prone to “expressing” illness. Isn’t it quite amazing we now have a science, which reveals that regardless of one’s current health status, food–and other lifestyle elements, such as de-stressing, physical activity, social support, adequate sleep, etc.–have the power to reset genes—NOW—for health, healing, and longevity–for both ourselves and our offspring? Clearly, “ordinary food” MUST be the present and future of medicine.
When considering the deeply intrenched, multidimensional aspects of America’s broken healthcare system, a possible solution that comes to mind is based on the Nike ad: “Just Do It.” In other words, what might a national lifestyle medicine-based model and program look like if the health professionals with a profound understanding of the healing power of lifestyle medicine were to implement a program–in as many “nooks and cranny’s” as possible throughout the country; a program that would provide the experiential understanding Americans would need to truly turn around their current sickness-based–and seemingly normal–lifestyle?
A NATIONAL LIFESTYLE-MEDICINE MODEL
Perhaps such an integrative, community-based, multigenerational lifestyle program would be designed to prevent, manage, and “reverse” obesity and related chronic conditions OVER A GENERATION, throughout perhaps hundreds (thousands?) of communities and cities nationwide. It would be an all-encompassing, ongoing (again, over a generation), family-based program because research participants who lose weight tend to gain it back when the study intervention is phased out. As significant, the most successful intervention for attaining and maintaining weight loss is a family-based intervention.*
The program would provide a comprehensive diet and lifestyle curriculum that includes nutrition education and counseling, weekly potluck get-togethers, cooking classes and community-created cookbooks, perhaps a sustainable, hands-on vegetable garden, physical activity, stress management, and social support services.
With all family members (from infants and children to teens, parents, grandparents, even nannies) meeting once or twice weekly, program participants will learn—and practice—optimal eating and lifestyle skills that will be supported and sponsored by community groups and individuals such as physicians, psychologists, allied health practitioners, local medical clinics and centers, medical universities, community centers, workout facilities (such as the Y), supermarkets—from Whole Foods Market to Safeway, exercise-oriented organizations, such as Trips for Kids (safe bike and walking paths), worksites, local spiritual and religious organizations (such as churches, synagogues, temples), schools (from elementary to high school), etc.
So that the program may be ongoing, as it expands, program participants can become role models and teachers, trained to coach optimal eating, activity, and lifestyle skills to succeeding groups. In this way, children and their families will have ongoing access to optimal (and anti-weight gain) health care; at the same time, they will be empowered both to live in and to continue to create a safe community that supports a healthful, optimal lifestyle.
* Epstein LH, Valoski A, Wing RR, McCurley J., “Ten year follow-up of behavioral, family-based treatment for obese children.” JAMA. 1990;264:2519-2523.
We medical people have become enchanted by particularities. Generalities such as you wisely propose come to the modern medical mind tainted by the scent of my profession’s most despised heresy, the panacea. The practice of our medical preaching begins with the beloved fallacy of Linnaean classification of disease. Name-it, blame-it, tame-it prescription pad medicine leaves no room for replacing the disease by the individual as the target of prevention and treatment. Changing the mind of the medical profession on this point is a tall order. Our professors have dragged the model of acute illness from the language of the 19th century into the the 21st century’s thinking about chronic illness. We confuse the names of illness with their causes. If engineers were to think and speak as we do they would say that the bridge fell down because it had fally-down-bridge disease. Reading Crookshank’s essay in the 1923 linguistics classics The Meaning of Meaning by Ogden and Richards forever changed my mind on this point.
Common sense, however, may appeal to the consumers of medical care. My patient is able to shift his or her thinking quite easily to the notion that illness is not an “entity” that is “attacking” him or her but a signal to change. That the change should focus on diet – though hard to swallow – is obvious when my patient grasps the reward of letting his or her body become the expert in judging efficacy. As your work in the hands of Essy and others has shown it takes less time than most prescription medicines aimed a chronic illness to show benefits. Once we each understand that individuality is the fundamental principle underlying medical science, the individual can escape from the pill-for-an-ill mentality that has corrupted medical practice, reimburselemt and public policy. You may find my essay Principle Based Medicine, https://www.dropbox.com/s/41t9g5wdby72t0x/Baker-01%20-%20Principles.pdf to be a source of phrases that may help sway both professional and public attitudes on these issues.