Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our Health, and Future Health Care

Our health care system healthiness is to a degree approached from a number of angles - government, community groups, fundraisers, individuals, health ads, and in schools. That degree is going to have to increase if we want to sustain and improve health care in this province.

Right now there's not nearly enough nutrition education being communicated to youth and adults. The idea that society needs the best nutrition and health information should be the foundation for people to make the best choices in food and lifestyle.

The Cameron Inquiry into the botched hormone receptor testing is starting to highlight some of the problem areas in our health care system - investment in staff training and reliable equipment. This is everyone's concern, and as baby boomers age, there will be more challenges to an already burdened health system. Challenging yes, and it can improve. Here are some ideas to consider for improving future health care and personal health.

  • Disseminating more health information via schools, hospitals, public service announcements.
  • Enforcing policies for the food industry to make nutrition guides more readily available. Last year Marketplace covered this very topic and found that it was difficult to get nutrition information at many restaurants. People were shocked to see how high calorie and sodium levels were in many of the food items.
  • Industrial companies which have negligent safety practices should be inspected to ensure they strictly adhere to safety guidelines; to make work environments more conducive to employees to wear proper safety apparel like masks where there are toxic fumes, or materials like asbestos. There are companies here in St. John's and probably everywhere else where employee safety is secondary. When many cancers alone are caused by environmental factors, more stringent safety regulations needs enforcing.

  • Whether it's started in elementary school, or in public service announcements, there needs to be more of an emphasis on taking more personal responsibility for one's health, i.e., seeking out nutrition information, healthier habits, hence, staying away from hospitals and doctors to a greater degree, and therefore, taking some stress away from health workers. Bad habits don't easily change overnight but self-inflicted good health is a goal worthy of a reminder anytime!

  • It's often said that religion should be kept out of politics. How about keeping business out of real health discussions. Their interests are in profit not some altruistic hope for individual's well being. The closest they come to that is in advertising - their concern is how well it works to make it appear that food products are beneficial to your health.

  • Much more can be done by the food industry to help. As we have seen, the food industry is in the pocket of influential agencies like Canada's Food Guide, and programs like the Health Check Symbol. They sit on boards that define criteria for determining what is healthy. It's been said here previously that the Heart and Stroke Foundation actually promotes food products that contribute to heart attacks and strokes.

  • Ban junk food advertising to children under 13. In fact, that is currently being considered in Ontario, after a private member's bill was introduced April 8.

    With a few words you can put a positive tone on anything. It's easy, especially when you're talking about the Ooey-gooey and chewy FanTaste-ic Goodness of the Chocolate Chippers, and other "fun" foods. There are people who like to sarcastically joke about the "corporate bogeyman". Well, there are thousands of reasons to be weary of insidious advertisers.

  • Completely wipe out the use of trans fats. Again, the bottom line of industry is to make profit, which includes cutting expenses, and making a product as cheaply as possible. That's a big reason for using trans fat. It kills people, but it's a cheap way to preserve products for a longer shelf life.

    Here's a nice example. The innocence of young girls is used to sell Girl Guide cookies. Who can resist! Unfortunately, 3 of these innocent cookies are laced with 1.5 grams of trans fat. It could have been removed but isn't. And why not? Voortman's can remove all trans fat from their cookies, so ..?

  • One more suggestion: Hospitals ought to set a better example for healthy eating by not allowing cafeterias to serve stuff like poutine, or allowing junk food giants like Tim Horton's set up in cafeterias.

    Many patients are in the hospital because they have had heart attacks, strokes and other coronary problems. Often, they are advised to stay away from salt, not to mention foods high in sugar. Check out the Tim Horton's nutrition guide here. Notice that their sandwiches are very high in sodium. Three (the Turkey Bacon Club, the Deli Trio, and the beloved Ham & Swiss) have sodium levels that are above the daily recommended limit of 1500 mg per day - and that's just one food item, not including the "meal deals" which include donut and beverage.

    The St. John's Health Sciences Centre has a Tim Hortons. After hours it's the only place to eat. The irony is obvious, a hospital with a "fun food" vender, and the cycle continues.

  • A general health care Telethon. The Janeway Telethons have been very successful, and we have a brand new hospital for kids. However, one suggestion is to have a telethon this year and/or the next, for the ER, or for the elderly care, for example.

    These are one observer's assessment of current health care and where it needs to go in the future. At the very least more discussion and analysis of societal health practices is a place to begin nursing our overall health and health care system to a better level.
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