A New Year’s resolution for a nation

America is facing an oncoming crisis that only we citizens can solve. Our national health care costs are a burden. But current health care costs are not the problem. The problem is the array of health problems that medical doctors and researchers have identified among young people. Children are exhibiting epidemic levels of preventable lifestyle diseases, diseases caused by very poor diets and lack of physical exercise.

Half of our current health care costs are attributable to preventable diseases. Some of the causes of preventable health problems are obvious like smoking or narcotic drugs or alcohol. Some are not so obvious. The greatest culprit of all is sugar. Sugar!

For thousands of years, sweet food was a rare treat, probably eaten only when someone discovered a wild berry or fruit or melon before nature’s other creatures devoured it. The sugar in fruit is encased in fiber that slows the absorption of the sugar when we eat the fruit. Refined sugar is different. Refined sugar hits our internal system hard and fast. Our internal organs do not handle it well. Refined sugar has become widely distributed and extensively used in commercially processed food products during the past fifty years.

Medical researchers and medical doctors are making great strides in understanding the complex chemistry that occurs in our internal organs. Their understanding of that biochemistry and decades of evidence from medical records points to consumption of refined sugar as the most probable major cause of a range of diseases including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, liver disease, some types of cancer, and dementia.

Two factors contributed to the delayed recognition that refined sugar damages our health. The adverse health conditions produced by consuming refined sugar develop slowly. Secondly, much of the refined sugar we consume is in processed food that we don’t think of as being sweet. Also, the name for the sugar used by manufacturers of processed food can appear on the label as any of 56 names, high fructose corn syrup, for example. Sugar and salt are taste enhancers, and food processors use abundant amounts to stimulate sales of their products.

With excessive consumption of refined sugar, diseases are becoming evident at an earlier age. Dr. Robert Lustig, author of The Hacking of the American Mind writes: “I see 10-year-olds with type 2 diabetes every day; they’ll likely be on long-term disability and never hold a job.” The set of diseases associated with excessive sugar consumption is being diagnosed in young adults. Dr. Lustig believes that the financial burden will overwhelm our medical and Social Security systems. It also means that many productive work years will be lost and less tax revenue collected.

Lack of exercise is a contributing factor for America’s preventable health problems. At an earlier time, children played outside after school or performed chores or delivered newspapers. Then, television took command of children’s time. Now, it is social media electronic devices. In Dr. Lustig’s words, “Doctors have known for decades that exercise is the single best thing you can do for yourself, both physically and mentally.”

The Declaration of Independence conveys the wisdom that we are blessed with the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. An epidemic of preventable illness will threaten that blessing for individuals and for society. Let us begin the New Year with a resolution to put preventable illness behind us.

Jack Stevenson is now retired from military service. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee. He also worked in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America (RCA).