Patty Dineen

The view from here

Speaking Truth to Healthcare


At the same time that so much attention has been on the Supreme Court’s decision about the Affordable Health Care Act this past week I have been reading some remarkable books about health, care, and the ways in which the health care system has fallen far short of what it could be.  What is stunning in what I have read is that many of the things that could make a huge difference in the quality of health and care we could have (not to mention how much we spend on health care as a country) are A) already known, and B) not that expensive or high tech.  In other words, there appears to be a lot of low-hanging fruit,  just, well,  hanging there.

Even though these books were new reads for me, they aren’t newly published.  Maybe I missed all the hype when they were new, or maybe there wasn’t as much hype as there should have been.  But if you haven’t read them, and you care about the cost and quality, and the future of your health, I suggest you should.

First I read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, published in 2007.  It is a large book dense with his descriptions of what is known (through research and clinical trials) about how our bodies use food, and how the government, public health officials, and clinicians have advised the public over the last half-century.

Taubes spent years combing through research, reading conference transcripts, and interviewing people.  He has done an incredible job of making it all understandable (yes, you may find yourself re-reading paragraphs or whole sections, and it’s totally worth it), but an even more impressive job of calmly conveying what amounts to evidence that the U.S. public has been getting exactly the wrong information about what to eat to not only stay lean, but to have the best chance to avoid many of the diseases that plague our families and our population: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and even Alzheimers.  Let me repeat that bit because it is hard to believe, I know– exactly the wrong information.

If what Taubes has uncovered and is conveying in this book turns out to be true– and he makes a brilliant case– then the health care system, public health officials, and government officials owe all of us a HUGE apology.  As soon as possible.  And First Lady Michelle Obama needs to read this book and Adjust her, otherwise well-intentioned, initiative to encourage kids to get to healthy weights.

In 2010 Gary Taubes published a shorter version of the first book about diet and health.  It is titled Why We Get Fat, and What To Do About ItAlthough this could be considered a more user-friendly version, it’s certainly not dumbed down, probably because the information is so critical, and Taubes doesn’t underestimate the public’s ability to get it.  The title’s a bit unfortunate since it’s about so much more that being fat and wanting to do something about it.  Anyone who eats food needs to read one or both of these books.  Gary Taubes has done the public an incredible service.  Thank you Gary Taubes.

Then I read Evan Handler’s 1997 book Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors.  The book is his memoir about being diagnosed with leukemia and his journey through the health care system as he does battle — not only with the disease– but with incompetency, rudeness, outsized egos, and also excellence.  There are a lot of memoirs about struggling with all manner of health problems, but what made me seek this one out was that I heard Handler being interviewed on NPR.  I was half listening until he said “I name names.”  And he does, the good, the bad, and the outrageously inconsiderate: hospitals, doctors, nurses, and assorted care providers.  Thank you for that Evan Handler.  It’s about time.


Written by dineenp

July 4, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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