The number of Americans receiving help from the government has skyrocketed over the last decade, which has placed an enormous burden on our ability to thrive as a nation. It's understandable why Republicans, among others, are so angry about the large and growing percent of dependents in this country. It concerns me as well. But, I disagree with them on the reasons why we are in this predicament.
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So often I hear that Democrats attract lazy, irresponsible people, who do not pay their fair share. Recall Romney's comment on the "47% of Americans who are takers" that buried the Republications early in this last election cycle. Unfortunately, his comment did not discern among the seniors, veterans, students, and legitimate invalids, whom we need to care for, or pay back for their services. Still, that leaves a large demographic that could be doing more to pull their own weight, clean up their act, and get a job. Who exactly are these people, anyway? Are they truly lazy, or is there something else at play here?
First, let me be reasonable and not make conservatives out to be insensitive monsters. In fact, they have a valid point about a serious problem that needs addressing. The price tag for dependencies, chronic illness, medicines, surgeries, special ed, social security, and myriad other social services is out of control. And, those of us who go to work are stuck paying for those who don't. It's one thing to care for those truly in need but, frankly, it is getting out of hand. As one writer put it: "America is becoming a nation of welfare zombies". The number of Americans receiving government assistance has risen from 17 million to roughly 47 million since 2000. More than 100 million Americans are receiving some form of government help, including 54 million on Medicaid. And, those on disability have topped 9 million. We can't deny that something is wrong. But what is the root of the problem?
One telltale symptom of a declining culture is the growing sickness of its people. Why, suddenly, are there so many hip, knee and shoulder replacements, implants, drugs, and triple bypasses? Why is heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes in epidemic proportions? What's up with all those unnecessary medical procedures? Why do so many of our kids have autism, behavioral disorders, mental health issues, or birth defects? The need for special education has exploded in the last 50 years, and the number of childhood vaccines has more than doubled. Chronic, debilitating disease has grown in parallel with dependency and the rise in social services. In truth, the nation's health has been on the decline since the mid 20th century, when processed food and fast food restaurants came on the scene. Our food now has a longer shelf life, because we've removed much of the goodness from it. Over 60% of the American diet consists of unhealthy, processed foods. Anything with sugar, corn syrup or trans fats in the top 5 ingredients is suspect. Let's face it: addictive junk food makes us stupid, tired and dependent.
A prime example of how food creates dependency is the epidemic of vision loss, with a global cost estimated at $3 trillion dollars. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts affect millions of people in this country, and are expected to triple in incidence by 2025. AMD involves the destruction of the retina of the eye at the very center of vision. Much of the destruction of the retina and lens results from sun exposure, but also from high blood sugar and other toxins that people are now exposed to. Yet, between 80 and 90% of these age-related eye diseases are preventable, according to the World Health Organization.
The risk of AMD and cataracts is reduced dramatically, simply by eating more fruits and vegetables. It's those yellow-orange pigments (i.e., lutein and zeaxanthin) in foods (e.g., kale, spinach, peppers, kiwi, eggs, etc) that protect us from excessive solar radiation and other toxins. But most Americans do not eat enough of these foods. Hence, the loss of vision contributes to daily living difficulties and dependencies, the risk of falling, serious accidents, premature death, and premature submission to nursing homes. Nearly one-third of seniors with poor vision have clinical depression. Indeed, the quality of life drops dramatically with vision loss, coupled with increased dependencies on others. Taxpayers shell out trillions of dollars because people eat more carbs than they do veggies.
So, how is Obama addressing these issues? Well, he really isn't. There is some emphasis on prevention in Obamacare, but it plays into the hands of pharmaceutical companies. Most of Obamacare simply strengthens the culture of dependency. Nothing has changed for the better regarding the quality of our food, or the emphasis on wellness, except maybe for Mrs. Obama's efforts on obesity. There is some movement to improve school lunches, and to restrict access to sugar-laden soda, but it has been met with great resistance by the sugar industry and recalcitrant libertarians. Our government still subsidizes the sugar and corn industries, which form the foundation for junk food. The corporate farms have their own expensive welfare program that taxpayers fund. Refined corn and grains contribute enormously to chronic inflammation, which fuels cardiovascular disease, cognitive dysfunction, diabetes and cancer.
There is little emphasis on nutrition in Obamacare, and virtually no promotion of vitamin and mineral supplements and essential oils, which have been proven beyond doubt to prevent disease and restore health. The FDA under Obama is as underhanded as it ever was under Bush or Clinton. Unfortunately, it is an instrument of Big Pharma and the American Medical Association that keeps people nutritionally ignorant. Think about it: the loss of profit to the medical industry would be ruinous if people took health and wellness seriously. Ultimately, the lack of leadership in government is culpable for the growing dependencies and decline of our country, and it's because they are beholden to the corporations. As usual, greed and ignorance are the real culprits that plague humans.
The good news is that 50% of American households have defied their physicians and take dietary supplements. Now the bad news: Vitamin and organic companies are rapidly being swallowed up by Big Pharma and the food conglomerates. Ironically, much of the goodness in these products is being removed and replaced by cheap, synthetic, GMO ingredients that don't have the same health benefits. In part, it's just the control of wealth and the profit motive rearing its ugly head. But, more insidiously, people are kept sick, dependent on drugs, and lining up in droves for replacement parts. Call it a conspiracy theory, but it's just business as usual. Frankly, those who hold stock in pharmaceuticals ought to think twice about how they affect wellness in this country, and how it encourages dependency. Finding the real source of the "laziness problem" may require a good look in the mirror.
The next time you want to dismiss a large chunk of Americans as lazy and irresponsible, just think about your own lazy reasoning and irresponsible investing. Better yet, get off your butt and help fix the problem by investing in real health and education, and access to affordable quality food and dietary supplements.
Eichenbaum JW. Mt Sinai J Med 2012:79:276-94.