The Dumbing Down Of Public Health

January 27th, 2009 at 11:57 am | 1 Comment |

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Last month, discount my daughter asked for a glass of milk.  I noticed that we were actually on the “best before” date stated on the carton. Panic — was the milk really safe?  I stood in the kitchen paralyzed with fear and indecision.

Many of my friends have described similar food-related problems: agonizing about the difference between “best before” and “sell by” dates; wresting with over-shopping when at the grocery store; fretting about the nuances of organizing the household freezer; aspiring to have successful home composting, but not being quite sure how to pull it off (should you add the earthworms or will they naturally come on their own?).

Well, actually, my friends really haven’t complained of these woes.  For the record, I managed to figure out the full significance of the “best before” date without too much fuss.  But for those unable to navigate such choppy waters, a government-funded effort in Britain aims to help educate families about such issues.  In an initial seven-week trial, nearly 25,000 houses will be visited, with trained officials providing sagely advice and armed with leaflets.  The campaign’s name: “Love Food Hate Waste.”  The program hopes to help reduce the wasting of food (not, apparently, the wasting of public money).  And, yes, education will focus on things like setting up home composting and better organizing the freezer.

Americans can tap the expertise of the program by going to its homepage.  Among the tips: how to keep lemon slices from going bad (freeze them) and a calorie calculator, so that you never prepare too much dinner again.

From a distance, the effort seems silly and unfocused.  Yet, the absurdity represents an unfortunate trend: the dummying down of public health.  I’ll comment more fully on this another day, but I want to note now that public-health initiatives used to be important and noble. Fluoridation of water, polio vaccinations, sanitation measures; the campaigns of the 20th century were awesome in their scope — and result.  Life expectancy grew more in the first half of that century with advances in public health than in the latter half with so many advances in medicine.

Today, public health is a shadow of its former self, describing ways for us to better organize our freezer.

Of course, we can think of the positive: at least funding for an American version of this program hasn’t made it into a Congressional stimulus bill — yet.  But as health costs spiral up, government officials increasingly see public-health initiatives as a way to try to save money on future medical bills.  “Love Food Hate Waste” — or some version of it — thus, may eventually be coming across the Atlantic.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • tarazeigler

    I wouldn’t complain about public health being dumbed down; I would complain about the public being dumbed down. Like it or not, people don’t seem to understand portion size, growing one’s own food or food preservation anymore. We are fat, kinda lazy and overly dependent on doctors to solve problems that we could once avoid altogether. I feel like the public health community has stooped down to meet us at our level. It is true that their mission seems less noble, in a way. Then again, we need for people to learn to take better care of themselves if we are to stop the crazy train of avoidable diease like high cholesterol and adult-onset diabetes. It’s a lot cheaper to avoid these dieases than to treat them. As for whether this will be folded into the stimulus bill, I give it a week.