With the vote for District Health Board representatives just around the corner now is the time to have a public debate about the direction in which our health leaders are taking us.
The DHB Healthy Populations Plan addresses five health priorities: children, youth and family; mental health; older people; cancer; and chronic diseases. Immunisation, hygiene, early detection and appropriate medical intervention are key initiatives within the Plan.
Of the 18 Medical Health Officer’s Public Health Advice posts on the DHB website, the majority deal with influenza and vaccination rates and only one addresses Healthy Eating, even though obesity is one of the most significant health issues contributing to type-2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, respiratory problems and osteoarthritis.
Is this Healthy Population Plan achieving its goals or is another direction required?
One in three adults in NZ is overweight and one in four is obese. Twenty percent of children are overweight. People are living longer while an expensive publicly funded health system groans under the weight of major chronic illness.
Is there a more cost effective way of tackling these health problems?
Experiments such as the water fluoridation programmes of the 1950s were heralded to solve dental decay problems, yet 58 years later 75% of Hastings’ 5 year old Maori children still have dental decay. Dr Weston A. Price was a dental researcher in the 1930s. He visited 22 New Zealand settlements to look at the teeth of over 500 Maori children and found those children in isolated communities living on their traditional diets of seafood, birds, ferns, kumara and pork had the best teeth and physical bodies of almost any population he had visited worldwide! The Maori children who were exposed to European diets of refined sugar and flour had abscesses, dental caries and missing teeth.
Dr Price found the same pattern throughout indigenous populations worldwide. Saturated animal fats, organ meats, seafoods, whole milk, butter, cheese and cream, fermented whole grains and fibrous vegetables were the key ingredients in those traditional diets. There were no vegetable oils, margarines, additives, sugars, refined white flours, pastas, white rice or cereals.
What would have happened to our population 50 years ago if the medical authorities had come up with an effective nutrition programme and vigorously opposed sugar treats and fake oils? To be fair they did have Children’s Health Camps and school milk – sadly the main reason why so many children of the 1950s can’t stand milk today. Somewhere along the way a nutritional focus was dropped from the Public Health vocabulary in favour of vaccinations and public hygiene.
Last year, Health Minister Tony Ryall dropped nutrition and physical activity from the Government health targets. The Government also chopped the Obesity Action Coalition, Healthy Eating – Healthy Action regional coordinators, and healthy food in school programme. Clearly a regional programme for our local communities is the way forward on the obesity issue. Perhaps we need a local community sponsorship programme like World Vision has internationally. Our donations could target the ‘nutrient starvation’ that is happening all around us. Hawke’s Bay could lead the nation in health statistics with an initiative to eat local, traditional, nutrient-dense food from our bountiful region.
Nutritionist Ben Warren and his Be Pure initiative in Flaxmere have demonstrated that obesity and diabetes can be reversed by removing sugar, excess carbohydrates and ‘bad’ vegetable oils from diets and putting back the ‘good’ fats our bodies need, like omega-rich grass-fed animal fat and seafood. Yes, it flies in the face of the food pyramid ‘low fat/high carbs’ diet. Tough as it is to admit we didn’t get it quite right, Flaxmere’s conclusive weight loss and improved blood sugar results show we need to head in a new direction.
We must ask ourselves – has being on low fat/ high carb diets for the last 40 years resulted in slimmer, healthier people on fewer medications? Can we remember even 20 years ago when obesity and diabetes were not considered to be epidemics? If you’re over 45 think back to how many children in your high school had cancer. How many do your children know in their schools that do? What we have been doing is not working. Let’s consider the option of going back to the wise traditions of our great grandparents – quality saturated animal fats and protein, spray free produce, and fewer carbohydrates and artificial ingredients. Let’s get back our health.
Who is going to lead that new direction toward nutrition for true health?
The root cause of disease is not bacteria, viruses or parasites. The root cause is immune and hormone systems that are compromised by poor nutrition. We pay our District Health Board to be the experts in health so it makes sense for them to be champions of a new focus. A new mother noted that a doctor ‘encouraged’ her to vaccinate her newborn 17 times in the space of one consultation! That’s one motivated doctor. Imagine if the same ‘push’ was given to excellent nutrition as is given to achieving immunisation rates. Our population would be healthier, energised and happier and our health costs would plummet.
In Hawke’s Bay we are fortunate to have some of the most versatile soils in the world, along with great sunshine hours and abundant water. We have farmers growing wonderful grass-fed sheep and cattle that are a good source of omega 3s and healthy saturated fats – the very fats we need for brain health for ourselves and our children. Children with behavioural and learning difficulties, such as ADHD, benefit from having fish oils and could equally benefit from eating meat (without the hamburger buns), animal fat and organ meats from the animals we grow here in our own backyard.
These same farmers, grappling with pressure to improve their environmental footprints, have turned to innovative companies for advice on how to improve the nutrient density of their grass and produce. They have healthier animals, smaller vets bills and more grass. They have experimented with homeopathic medicines for their dairy cows and found they offer cost-effective treatment thus reducing antibiotic use.
Soil mineral deficiency is a huge concern because it leads to depleted minerals in our food. The Royal Society of Chemists and the British Ministry of Agriculture findings from 2001 indicate a general overall average decline of 60% in vitamin and mineral content in our fruits and vegetables in the past 50 – 60 years.
Iodine for instance is essential for brain development in babies and children, healthy thyroid function and breast health in adults. The public health response is to encourage people to use iodised salt which also contains aluminum – a mineral we don’t want to accumulate. Iodised salt provides only one of the two forms of iodine we need for thyroid and breast health. Seaweed, seafood, fish and food grown with mineral rich fertilisers is a better way to ensure we get the right amount of iodine.
Chemical toxins from agricultural sprays, plastics, industrial processing and additives to our food are a major negative factor to many people’s health. The benefits of fluoride are debated around the world, but everyone agrees – too much is poisonous! Fluoride is a toxic halogen that suppresses the uptake of iodine, which most of us are functionally deficient in. The quality of our nutrition affects the quality of our teeth. If after 58 years of administering fluoride we still have a 75% caries rate in the key target population of Maori children, perhaps we could come at this problem from a better perspective and deal with the basic building blocks of dental health – nutrient dense food.
As Henare O’Keefe says about his Flaxmere health project,”It’s all about education.” Who better to educate our local people about what will make them feel better, have healthier children and have more fun in life, than the people who run our DHB!
So how will this year’s DHB candidates get that message out there and find the funds to put in an innovative health programme that will take us to consistent levels of wellness?
Now is the time to ask the tough questions of our representatives so that they can bravely initiate programs that will lead us all to being healthy, active and brimming with nutrients.