The question is not just how many years do we have in our lives, but how much life we have in our years!
We tend to think of ourselves as indestructible…particularly when we’re young and our bodies seem to adapt to whatever punishment we levy against it. We LOOK good and generally feel good too. If we’ve been fortunate enough to have avoided serious disease or injury throughout our youth, it’s very easy to fall into the “my body handles things well” or “I just don’t get sick” mentality. Anyone who’s ever owned a car that appeared in mint condition, but one day stopped running due to a transmission or engine failure knows that appearances can be deceiving!
And so it is with our bodies! For the most part, we no longer live in fear of things like malaria or polio or TB. Such disease no longer threaten developed countries. However, today we face a different challenge. Today we are threatened in record numbers by what have become known as “diseases of excess.” Today, our leading killers are things like cardio-vascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and a wide range of cancers. And what is particularly astonishing is that these diseases were virtually non-existent just a single century ago, even in the United States! As a matter of public record, current statistics show that roughly 70% of the illnesses that now cost Americans their lives as well as their quality of life are lifestyle related, primarily determined by what they choose to put into their mouths. The saddest part of this fact is that our physicians are not trained to either understand this fact, nor to relate it to their patients. In the majority of cases, the best we can expect to hear from our doctors on the subject, if we’re lucky, is “you need to lose some weight” or “eat more fruit and vegetables! That’s all well and good, but HOW do we do that?
In 2004, the NIH (National Institutes of Health) conducted a study to address an issue that has long contributed to the woefully inadequate amount of training physicians get in the area of nutrition. According to the results of that study, on average, of the 104 schools that responded to the study doctors received less than 24 classroom hours of training on nutrition. Given the complexity of the human body, combined with one of most impactful ways our bodies interact with their environment, the foods we consume, and given how many foods we are exposed to, particularly those new to our food supply, this seems grossly inadequate. But let’s be fair. As it currently stands, doctors typically only see patients, on average, for between 10-20 minutes per visit according to the 2016 Physician Compensation Report incorporating data from over 19,000 doctors in 26 specialties. During that time, the physician is to quickly review the patient’s chart, address as promptly as possible any particular complaints the patient has, determine how best to “address” that complaint, document in the patient’s record what was said and done, including specific medications, treatments, and recommendations. At exactly what point was the physician supposed to address the issue of nutrition even if he/she had a clue how to do it?