Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's Already Here: 'The Biggest Pandemic of All Time'

Earlier this year, Newsweek columnist Dr. Dean Ornish wrote, "cardiovascular disease kills more people each year worldwide than any other disease. It's the biggest pandemic of all time."

Were you aware that we are living in such perilous times? No? Me neither. So how could the "biggest pandemic of all time" slip right under our noses? According to Ornish, "Heart disease is so common that we've become accustomed to it, thinking of it as a natural cause of death. Yet there's nothing natural about it."

Creeping up behind heart disease on the pandemic scale, according to Ornish, are obesity and diabetes. Due to rising rates of these slow killers, "this may be the first generation in which children have a shorter lifespan than their parents," wrote Ornish.

The sad part is that, unlike
pandemics of the past -- like The Black Death, AIDS (which continues to this day) and the 1918 Influenza outbreak that killed 50 to 100 million people in just six months -- the scourge of heat disease "is almost completely preventable just by changing diet and lifestyle," says Ornish

According to Ornish, "nine factors related to nutrition and lifestyle accounted for almost 95 percent of the risk for a heart attack in men and women." For the record, these factors are: smoking, cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption and psychosocial issues (for example, emotional stress and depression).

In his column, Ornish points out that the costs of fighting heart disease is costing the United States billions of dollars each year. This is one factor in rising health care rates, which are threatening the profitability of major U.S. employers. Ornish gave two examples: "Starbucks reportedly spends more on health care for its employees than on coffee beans. General Motors spends more on health care than steel."

To reverse this trend, Ornish suggests that doctors look at treating heart disease differently. Instead of paying $40,000 to clear blocked arteries with
angioplasty, how about $50 for a pair of running shoes? According to Ornish, "regular physical exercise worked even better than angioplasty for preventing heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths."

So what are doctors waiting for? The money. Insurance companies don't pay for running shoes. They pay for angioplasty. And, wrote Ornish, "We doctors do what we get paid to do, and we get trained to do what we get paid to do."

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.