Last week, Vice President Biden vowed to make it his mission to stop cancer, launching a “moonshot” initiative. He came to my hometown of Philadelphia to announce plans to use his final year in office to break down barriers and join together to make breakthroughs in the fight against cancer.
While finding a cure this dreadful disease is imminent for those with the diagnosis and exceptionally admirable, there is an additional way to fight against cancer. That is by working harder to prevent cancer and other chronic disease from happening in the first place. No country that is being attacked from both sides can win a war by only defending one of them.
Eating nutritious meals, drinking enough water, being active, and eliminating hormones, pesticides and toxins are all vital to a healthy lifestyle that is imperative for avoiding disease. In addition to charging doctors and researchers to make advancements in medicine, we should be charging companies that make and distribute products made with toxins, added hormones, and pesticides to be conducting their businesses more responsibly.
Institutions such as schools and hospitals must also join us in the fight for disease prevention. Sure, healthy habits should start in the home, but when our children are in school five days per week (and many of them are on free or reduced lunches), they take what is available and offered to them. Healthy food in school and healthy food in hospitals should be the norm, not the exception.
This past week I had a conversation with my son’s school about the items being served in the cafeteria. Included with their daily lunch is a choice of fat free milk (a solid option), along with chocolate milk, strawberry milk, and various forms of juice, all of which mean unnecessary sugars fed to our children every day at lunchtime. Meanwhile, bottled water costs an additional $1.50. That’s the same price or even more than the Pop Tarts, various types of chips, numerous ice cream treats, and four different types of cookies offered for sale in the cafeteria each day.
Sure, schools may provide a few conventional carrots or an apple with the French toast and syrup and daily pizza alternative meal, but they also offer significantly more snacks and sugary drinks than nutritious whole food options.
Besides loading students up with sugar and then expecting them to sit still and focus in the classroom, this way of eating raises the potential for hyperactivity, insulin resistance, metabolic disease, obesity, and cancer. In the classroom our children are told what they should do to eat healthy, including eating nutritious meals and staying active. When they head down the hall to the cafeteria it becomes evident that our educators are not walking the talk, and the hypocrisy makes it substantially more difficult to enforce healthy habits at home.
In the same vain, I began to think about the foods and drinks that are served in most hospitals after joking about it with a friend. Both of our sons have had minor procedures, such as getting tubes in their ears to prevent further ear infections. Afterwards, pediatric patients are generously offered a slushie, lovingly made with corn syrup and food dye.
This made me wonder why hospitals don’t serve foods that will help heal the body, rather than foods that may lead to further complications. My friend’s son was recently in a horrible accident, leaving him hospitalized for many weeks.
His parents are simply grateful beyond words to see their child alive and eating anything at all. As a friend and bystander of their incredibly positive attitude, I would love to know that he is being treated on both the outside and the inside.
Apple juice and sugary gelatin snacks that are commonly served in hospitals are not going to help his body heal any faster. Organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins are going to give his body the proper nutrition and fuel to help my friend’s son to heal at the most optimal rate.
Likewise, our hospitals should take a look at what they are feeding patients who already have a cancer or chronic disease diagnosis. It has been shown in multiple studies that cancer thrives on sugar. How many cancer patients are currently given apple juice, gelatin snacks and slushies while they are getting chemotherapy treatment?
Once again, it is evident that healthy food in school and healthy food in hospitals should be the norm, not the exception. This help to prevent disease as well as cure disease at a faster rate.
Vice President Biden, your efforts are important and admirable. It is my hope that we can also begin to discuss the ways to fight cancer by preventing it – in addition to treating it. It will be easier to double the rate of prevention than it will to double the rate of progress in finding a cure. It is time to change the conversation about cancer to utilize all of our knowledge, including what we know about the importance of nutrition and lifestyle. Let’s fight the battle from both sides, so that we can win the war.