As you may know, November is Diabetes Month and today is Diabetes Day, at least in New York City. The day kicks off in front of the United Nations, and even the Empire State Building will be bathed in blue light, the official diabetes color, to honor the occasion. As much as I love it that we now have our own month and day, I’m thinking: wouldn’t it be nicer if we didn’t need one?
What if we put our energy into keeping people well rather than letting them get sick? In ancient China, village doctors were compensated not to cure the sick, but to keep people well. If people became sick, the doctors had to treat them for free. No wonder you see flocks of Chinese people performing their graceful movements in the park. They’re doing Tai Chi or Chi gong – practices that keep the body’s vital breath and energy robust and circulating.
What if your health insurance premium went down if you kept yourself in good shape? Can you imagine healthcare practitioners getting paid to keep people healthy? The first thing I envision is a lot more lively people running around and smiling. The majority of seniors would be slimmer and wouldn’t automatically get the illnesses we associate with aging; their bodies would never have deteriorated to that point. Hmmm…focusing on wellness rather than unwellness. Now wouldn’t that just screw with our health insurance companies something awful!
Since doctors get paid to treat sick people, they have little incentive in keeping people well. We’ve all read about how physicians make more money doing surgeries. So surgeries get scheduled like a Macy’s one-day sale – pack ’em in seems to be the byword. How did it happen that our focus became treating the sick rather than keeping people well, anyway?
In Michael Moore’s film Sicko, he’ll tell you that one of the first health insurance companies realized that they could make big bucks by letting people get ill and then treating them. And President Nixon thought that was kind of a cool idea too.
I’m not saying that pharmaceutical companies aren’t necessary or that new medications aren’t saving and prolonging lives. I do think that you can earn a profit and do good work at the same time. And I’m certainly not saying that we shouldn’t treat the sick. After all, type 1 diabetes is not preventable. Or is it?
If we began with the goal of keeping people well through exercising, eating properly, keeping our environment clean, minimizing stress, and cultivating health-promoting societal values, maybe we wouldn’t even get diabetes. Maybe we wouldn’t get the viruses or traumas that scientists now think trigger type 1. Maybe the genes that predispose people to get type 2 would stay dormant and not switch on. In fact, healthier eating and exercise could almost wipe out type 2 diabetes. Maybe some of that pharma money apportioned for research and development could be dispersed to create an infrastructure that would prevent disease.
It would be nice if we started with the axiom that we should keep ourselves healthy. We need to change the culture that encourages taking drugs and undergoing operations to deal with the consequences of unhealthful food, rife with life-decimating trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. We need to change the sixty- to eighty-hour work weeks that leave us no time to move our bodies or refresh our minds, and we need to change the expectation that we will get ill as we age.
But, alas, until that day arrives, I’ll have to settle for National Diabetes Day. So if you’re in New York, go out, get informed, and be counted. It’s the best way we have right now to make diabetes visible and to bring better management and prevention into our own homes.