Friday, July 25, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Seeds of good health

By George Ball

Amid all the brouhaha about Obamacare, the very foundation of health care scarcely gets mentioned. By all means, let's make health insurance available and affordable for Americans. At the same time, let's do our darnedest to make it less necessary.

What we know as "health insurance" is in fact "sick insurance," since it only kicks in once we're ill or injured. It's really there to protect our finances rather than our physical well-being. True health insurance would help us optimize and maintain our health, so we don't get sick in the first place and run up those death-defying bills.

We should be directing our attention and resources to the front end of the health-care arc, shifting our focus from the doctor's office or hospital (or grave) to the point of origin: the garden, the wellspring of health-giving, disease-preventing vegetables and fruits. Obamacare, meet Burpeecare.

Burpeecare is our company's pet name for a program that lowers health-care costs by boosting Americans' health. Burpee has, after all, been supplying American gardeners with seeds and plants for 135 years. While we think it's catchy, the name is not that important, but the concept - improving Americans' health from the ground up - most assuredly is.

The garden offers a prettier prospect for health care than what's currently on offer. In 2012, health-care expenditures in the United States cost a whopping $2.8 trillion. About 75 percent of these health-care costs - and seven out of 10 deaths - arise from preventable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and cancer.

Obesity, now afflicting 78 million American adults, plays a major role in promoting these preventables. Our obesity epidemic is expensive - costing $190 billion in related health-care expenses and $153 billion in lost productivity.

There is no mystery to why one-third of American adults are obese and seven out of 10 are overweight. Americans tend to consume vastly more calories than they expend.

The Great American Eating Disorder finds the people of our great nation turning the food pyramid on its head, binging on unhealthy fats, salt, and sweets, while neglecting nutritious grains, fruits, and vegetables. Too many Americans are, in effect, eating themselves to death: dying from their diet.

How do we Americans like our food? Cheap, fast, abundant, and effort-free. Nowadays, we eat half of our meals outside the home, opting for fast food or snack-ready, health-unfriendly "food products."

The food industry, meanwhile, churns out more chow than Americans can safely consume: producing 3,200 calories of food per American each day, when the average recommended daily calorie intake is around 2,200 calories. Well, that surplus food - and calories - has to go somewhere, and it does: plumping America's expanding waistline.

Even if you are health-conscious, and each day consume the recommended five to 13 portions of vegetables and fruits, anemic supermarket produce is robbed of much of its nutritional wallop by premature harvesting and long-distance shipping.

Burpeecare invites Americans back to the garden, where, in the place of high-calorie, fatty, salty, prepared food - or jetlagged, shopworn grocery produce - you can grow and harvest fresh, delicious, health-giving, life-sustaining fruits and vegetables - and at a fraction of the cost of supermarket produce. Food doesn't get any fresher, purer, tastier, more convenient, or less expensive than this. And have you ever heard of anyone binging on green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, or raspberries? Me neither.

The garden delivers a harvest of nutritional and monetary dividends. Just a small patch of six to eight tomato plants - yielding the reddest, tastiest, juiciest fruits you can imagine - represents a savings of $5,000 a year, compared with purchasing those anodyne, flavor-free tomatoes at your grocer's. With Burpeecare, health truly is wealth.

The garden, with its cheap, abundant, and nutrition-packed fruits and vegetables, represents the new face of health insurance: the best, most efficient way for Americans to eat right, keep in shape, and prevent, well, preventable diseases.

Burpeecare places responsibility for our health care not in the hands of the government, insurance companies, doctors, and hospitals, but with ourselves. It may not be the total solution to all of our country's health-care woes, but it's certainly the best place to start - right in our own gardens.

George Ball is chairman and CEO of the Burpee Co., and past president of the American Horticultural Society.

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