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The Physicians Committee

Editorial: Cutting Health Care Costs

How much do Americans like chicken wings? Or cheeseburgers? Or pork chops? Enough to lose their jobs? At Ford Motor Company, that’s exactly the question workers should be asking themselves. Earlier this year, Ford announced massive layoffs. More than 30,000 North American Ford employees will be out of work.

One major factor: health care costs. Skyrocketing doctor bills, hospital bills, and prescription drug costs have driven up the sticker prices on Ford’s cars and trucks. The same problem is also hurting the bottom line at GM, Chrysler, and other American manufacturers.

Stop by any U.S. factory and you’ll see why. We are one out-of-shape country. One-third of Americans are now moderately overweight, and another third are obese. Every pound a worker gains pushes his or her cholesterol up about one point. Twenty pounds, 20 points. Fifty pounds, 50 points.

factory worker

If American manufacturing aims to compete, it must regain its edge. And vegetarian diets could do the trick.

To counteract the cholesterol-raising effect of chicken wings and chili dogs, we take Lipitor. One tablet costs about three dollars. A year’s supply runs more than $1,000. Our national ponderousness has also brought unprecedented epidemics of diabetes and high blood pressure, which demand more drugs–two or three for diabetes, another two, three, or even four for hypertension. Ordinary Americans now spend a fortune on legal drugs, doctor visits, and tests. 

It’s time to wake up and smell the crisis. If American manufacturing aims to compete, it must regain its edge. And vegetarian diets could do the trick.

An economic analysis by my research team, published in Preventive Medicine more than 10 years ago, predicted the effects of eating habits on health care costs. At that time, meaty diets were responsible for more than $60 billion in health care expenditures every year. Today’s figures would likely be double that number.

Many Americans are already breaking the meat habit to cut their cholesterol, lose weight, or build their stamina. An average meat-eater can trim 20 pounds or more by switching to a plant-based diet. Detailed medical studies have shown that, like nonsmokers, people who skip the meat course require fewer doctor visits, fewer operations, and fewer prescriptions.

If workers and managers pull together and resolve to get healthy, we’ll make our industries more competitive. In the process, we’ll also revolutionize the health of this country.


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Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM

Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

Neal D. Barnard, M.D.

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