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As you might expect, I quite liked Nick Kristof's quick tour through the some of the more nightmarish corners of our food production system. "I fervently hope that we’re going to see a public insurance option this year," writes Kristof. "But one reason for our health problems is our industrialized agriculture system, and that should be under scrutiny as well."

Close readers will notice an important slide in those two sentences. Kristof moves from talking about health care system problems to, well, health problems. It's an important move. There are those who try to argue that better health will solve the problems of our health care system. That's less obviously true than it might seem: Living a long time is expensive. But we didn't build a health care system in the hopes that we'd eventually overcome the economic challenges it posed. We built it because we want to be healthy. And spending a bit more money helping people eat well when they're young is, in terms of being healthy, probably a lot more effective than spending a lot of money to keep people from dying from diabetes when they're older. I cover some of this ground in my article exploring whether health care reform will make you healthier. This bit is particularly relevant:

What we need, says health-care researcher Michael McGinnis, is a willingness to see health-care dollars as health dollars. The question should not be how much health care we can buy. It should be how much health we can buy. Whether that health comes through a doctor's office or a preschool is immaterial.

The health-care system speaks often of cost. McGinnis wants to see it operate on value instead. "Value is a very straightforward notion," he says. "It's how much a return you get for the effort you put in. In this case effort is dollars. And return is health.

Spending trillions to increase health care coverage while refusing to make the small investments that would help people eat better is like installing an incredibly expensive heating system in your house but never bothering to purchase a sweater.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

By Ezra Klein  |  June 23, 2009; 9:19 AM ET
Categories:  Food  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Why Barack Obama Should Sit Back and Wait
Next: So You Say You Want a Constitutional Convention?


I agree, and Joel Salatin makes a similar point in Food, Inc. about our food system. He advocates making healthfulness the ultimate goal.

Posted by: samuelq | June 23, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

This is right. But after health care, the administration will turn to the child nutrition reauthorization. So as federal funds are all being siphoned towards health care, we have to make sure the programs that promote heatlh - ie healthy food for kids - don't get left behind.

Posted by: marklbishop | June 23, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

A belated comment on your article. I actually had some big problems with it. In fact, and I write this as a huge advocate of food policy reform, I was a little annoyed by it.

It struck me as too-obviously the writing of someone young and healthy, as having what I once heard called "the arrogance of youth." I say this as someone older than you with several chronic conditions, none of which were caused by my diet, and all of which (including multiple sclerosis) should be treated by doctors. With prescription medications. And expensive tests.

And it's not like I'm in a small minority. You should assume your audience is diverse. Some will have health problems. Some will even have (*gasp*, *shudder*) diabetes.

Having health care, and the quality of that health care, actually *is* part of being healthy. Everyone needs health care sooner or later, and having it sooner, and for everyone, *is* a matter of public health.

Posted by: JaneG | June 25, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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