Len Saputo: We need publicly funded health care, but we need more – a system based on prevention
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network, coming to you from Washington, DC. We’re are here at the conference America’s Future Now, and we’re joined again by the authors of A Return to Healing, written by Len Saputo and Byron Belitsos. Thanks for joining us.
LEN SAPUTO, MD AND AUTHOR: Thank you.
BYRON BELITSOS, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Thank you very much.
JAY: So in the first segment we kind of talked about what’s wrong. Let’s talk about what you’d like to see. So if you were advising President Obama, very concretely, what would the policy be?
SAPUTO: Well, we have to have a health-care paradigm that is based on health. We can’t afford to continue to do the sick-care system that we have.
JAY: Okay. Be specific; like, give me some concrete things.
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SAPUTO: Okay. Here’s some programs, specific programs. We are doing a little program in Walnut Creek, California, a little, tiny town. A little girl there named Cindy Gersten has a restaurant. She’s been gnawing on the bones of the city council of Walnut Creek for five years. She called me about a year ago, and she says, “Len, let’s put together a program that’s based on some science for nutrition so we can get that into the city for all their events.” I put together 25 people from the universities, etcetera. We came up with 50 ideas and narrowed them to three: get the high-fructose corn syrup out; no trans fats; and let’s get enough fiber in the food so it’s healthy. Every city in Contra Costa County has taken the wellness city council pledge. And the idea is to do those three things. And they’ve agreed to do it. At the grassroots level, we did it with no support, nobody giving us any money, nothing from the federal government. And this is a program that’s working now.
JAY: Now, what does that mean?
SAPUTO: That means that we got healthy food in the cities. The city is going to take all the stuff that’s junk food, it’s going to take out of the city, out of the vending machines, and they’re going to serve no meals that don’t follow those three rules. We next go to the school.
JAY: But what happens—yeah, this is—you’re talking schools? Or you’re talking—?
SAPUTO: We’re talking about the city itself in its meetings and its vending machines, anything that the city owns or it has a meeting.
JAY: Okay. But that’s a fraction of the eating habits of the people.
SAPUTO: You’ve got to start someplace. That’s the start.
JAY: Okay. But how do you broaden it? How do you make it something systemic?
SAPUTO: We go to the schools next. And then we go to the restaurants. We’ve got what’s called the Healthy Restaurant Association. We have a column in the local newspaper that talks about who’s getting on board and who’s not. And we’ll even get to the hospitals. One day when you go to your hospital, you may have healthy food if you come to Walnut Creek or Contra Costa County.
JAY: So how do you broaden that systemically across the country? If you think this needs to be part of a comprehensive health-care reform, does that mean government needs to regulate this across the board as they did with—I mean, they haven’t regulated tobacco, but at least they’ve made it—they’ve had law suits and class-action suits against tobacco in various states. Does it take this in terms of the food industry?
BELITSOS: Yes, taxing junk food just like we tax tobacco. We take that money and use it for health. We can tax junk food. That’s proposed in our book. We have a five-point plan for prevention in this book, and taxing those habits that make us sick, it should be something that could come even from the federal level, starting with the state and local level.
JAY: So what you’ll hear from Rush Limbaugh—if I get to play Rush Limbaugh, perish the thought—but any rate, the government’s now going to tax us into doing what you think is good for us. Here’s the government telling us the kind of of choices we can make. And this whole issue is always posed as one of individual freedom. Like, have the right to choose to smoke; I have the right to read crap if that’s what I wanted.
BELITSOS: You can still go and eat crap. But if you get a heart attack in the country has to pay for your health care—. We have rights, too, and we have—about half of us are going to have cancer. So tell Rush: do we want half of our population to have cancer, or do we want to prevent people from getting cancer?
JAY: So Rush’s answer will be: well, that’s my problem, because I don’t want a public health-care plan, anyway.
SAPUTO: Yeah, but I don’t want to pay for it.
JAY: Well, he would say, “Well, you won’t pay for it. I’ll pay for it, ’cause I’m going to buy private insurance.”
SAPUTO: Well, he’s Rush Limbaugh, okay? And private insurance isn’t going to pay for a lot of those things, ’cause it doesn’t today. It’d pay for some things. You try to out of to go out of the system, it doesn’t pay for much. You’re going to get what the mainstream therapies are and that’s all. Plus we need a program from the top down, from the national level down. Walnut Creek and Contra Costa County in California shouldn’t be the ones leading the way here by themselves. When this spreads to adjacent counties into state of California, or maybe before that, we should have some federal funding for programs like that in other states. This is a wonderful way to improve the food that we consume. And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t tax it. We tax tobacco; we tax alcohol; we’d have penalties for other things that we do that are bad for us. And if we did that, we’d be doing what’s the right thing. And we could also support the good people who are making good food. We can promote that and we can do something to subsidy that. It’s a good way to go.
JAY: And is there any sign there’s any interest in this in the Obama administration?
BELITSOS: They had a prevention budget that was cut, I believe, in half in the discussions that they had earlier in the administration. I don’t know where that legislation is, where it’s going to be in the current legislation. Let’s hope that they put more money for prevention, at least $1 billion—they cut it to $0.5 billion—he proposed 1 billion. And that’s just so minimal compared to the $650 billion that he set aside. It’s—really doesn’t make any logical sense to not spend a great deal of money giving the American people the infrastructure for a healthy lifestyle.
JAY: And how far would you push him? I mean, junk food and childhood obesity is—certainly junk food and its consequence in childhood obesity is apparently one of the most serious problems facing the health of children. And when it comes to children, we do legislate certain things. And I know there’s been some cities that have tried to legislate zones around schools [as] no-junk-food zones. If you’re really going to take it on, you’ve got to take it on and you have to actually say: this is against the law, to sell poison to kids. And there seems to be fairly good evidence that there is. Do you support that kind of legislation? And if so, how far do you push it?
BELITSOS: I think more important is education versus coercion. So both. And right now we need prevention. It might have to be a little bit coercive to actually put barriers around these poisons so kids don’t get to them. But a broad education is what we recommend.
JAY: But we didn’t educate seatbelts. We coercively tell people to wear seatbelts.
BELITSOS: Then we did some education also as to why are we doing this. So we want people to voluntarily live a healthy lifestyle so that we can save their lives but also save the costs that are bankrupting the country. We all know that it’s bankrupting the country. And that’s the number-one problem we have in terms of the budget in this country is health care, and we have to address it. Rush Limbaugh ought to back that, too, if he wants to have less government. This would actually end up with less government.
JAY: Well, not less government if you pass laws against this sort of stuff. I mean, how far do you push—like, you take your Walnut Creek model. But if that’s going to spread within any kind of reasonable timeframe, it’s going to have to be backed by some legislation isn’t it?
SAPUTO: Well, not necessarily. If this is a grassroots-driven movement, and it starts to spread, and there are people who are doing this, it’s showing you that the people want this. It’s about education at the local level. When you have that kind of education, you don’t need legislation to make it against the law. You certainly can tax junk food, but that’s not that big a thing. And you can support healthy food.
JAY: So, concretely, what else would you like to see?
SAPUTO: An exercise program. Let’s put $50 billion into exercise, $1 billion for each state, and have healthy exercise programs in every school in every level. That’s a start. And then let’s have some federal legislation to be able to build facilities.
JAY: So what does that mean? Like, hiring gym teachers again?
SAPUTO: It means that we have PE just like when I went to school. Every kid in school has an hour every day at every school at every level, because it’s healthy and because it’s fun. Education in this country has dilapidated, has gotten into a bad place. We don’t want to just teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic; we need to teach people what they need to know about healthy lifestyles so they can be healthy.
JAY: What else?
BELITSOS: Well, certainly, we want—in terms of prevention? We want to—again, this education issue about, you know, education has so many dimensions. It’s at the elementary level; it’s at every level. But I wanted to add about science, and making sure that we both talk about this: the science is skewed. And we need to look at outcomes from all the different kinds of treatments. And, you know, Len’s an expert in this, because he’s created the first integrative clinic in his region that is based on the new science about these treatments, these natural medicine treatments and integrative medicine treatments. And that science needs to be in the hands of the federal government so that they can get the insurance, say, the public auction, to cover those treatments—chiropractic, acupuncture. All those sorts of things that we know as natural medicine or integrative medicine, the science should be covered by federal money to actually do the studies at the NIH [National Institute of Health] that they’re not doing.
JAY: The studies to find out what’s effective and what isn’t.
SAPUTO: Exactly. And what they say is there’s no data, so therefore it’s no good. That’s nonsense. I mean, things like traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have been around 5,000 years higher. And to think that that’s just something that happens or that happened for a long time and people were stupid about it is nonsense.
JAY: So, just to make it clear to people watching, if I understand it correctly, the problem is double-blind studies are very expensive, and the only ones that are paying for double-blind studies now are pharmaceutical companies.
JAY: And you can’t get it done for non-pharma treatments.
SAPUTO: Exactly. And the data that we’re getting from big Pharma is not fair. I mean, it’s not honest. In fact, they lie to us, and we outright have that evidence. We know that there’s about 15 percent of what we do in the mainstream medicine is good science. And the literature, I mean, three people quit their jobs from the general American Medical Association—Catherine DeAngelis, The New England Journal of Medicine, Marcia Angell, The Journal of Clinical Investigation, Ushma Neill, all resigned after a decade or more of being the chief editor, saying that the information coming across their desks to be published was disappointing, disillusioning, and disheartening. So they left. So the data that we’re getting for our doctors is not solid science; it’s not good information. And that’s what you and I are getting managed by. So it’s misrepresented, it’s misinformation, and it’s harmful.
BELITSOS: We summarize, in the book, this issue of science. And it’s: Is this really scientific medicine? Or is it politicized, corporatized medicine that we’re getting, and they’re adding science and saying, “This is science”? But actually, as you just mentioned, the science is being funded by the people who they’re supposed to be regulating. NIH’s budget is $30 billion. They have about $100 million covering these kinds of the so-called integrative medicine and natural medicine treatments and modalities. That’s scandalous, really. It should be 10 percent or 20 or 30 percent of the budget.
JAY: Well, in the next time we cover this, we’ll come to Walnut Creek and you can show us what you’re doing.
SAPUTO: Happy to do that.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
SAPUTO: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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