Wear a mask, keep your distance, sanitize your hands.

In all these months, that’s all we’ve got against the coronavirus. And for some reason, it seems too hard for some of us. Or maybe it feels pointless. Maybe you’re grasping for more, something specific with tangible results.

There is actually something else we can do. It would also help safeguard from chronic illness like heart disease, stroke and diabetes – today’s leading cause of death and the favorite targets of the coronavirus.

It’s simple and doesn’t even cost anything. If people would take responsibility for their health – eat right and exercise – chronic illness is 80% preventable according to just about every health expert out there.

And yet, we can’t seem to get it together. The silver lining from the coronavirus should be America’s wake up call to its unhealthy lifestyle. Instead, we complacently do what we want until it’s too late, and hope for some miracle treatment.

There are efforts, some local, to move the needle for healthier living. But frankly, it’s too gentle and too subtle. We’re American, damn it! No one will force us to wear a mask, let alone tell us what to eat. Meanwhile, midlife mortality rates have increased, our health care costs are surging and we’re more vulnerable to new risks like today’s pandemic.

Americans are not the only ones. News reports at the end of last week say British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also wants to crack down on obesity in the U.K. He has said that the country needs to lose weight to safeguard against a second coronavirus spike. Measures could include limits on food-related advertising and promotions.

While that level of control flies in the face of our American values, I believe a strong intervention is needed and we should integrate nutrition into health care.

Some thought the coronavirus lockdowns might finally trigger a shift. Home kitchens were busy. Families were returning to the dinner table. There was a sourdough-baking craze.

But did you know that earlier this year cookie and cracker sales were up 30%? Frozen waffles, breakfast cereal and canned soup, all up, too. Considering how processed food is engineered and marketed, it’s no wonder we’re losing the battle. We don’t stand a chance.

It is a huge ship to turn, and yet a simple one. We don’t need new testing, medical breakthroughs or capital investments. We really just need acceptance and willingness. You don’t even have to go on some wild and restrictive diet. You just need to eat more of the plant-based fresh stuff, less of the animal stuff and really limit the refined processed stuff. You don’t need to run a marathon. Just get out for a walk.

Contrary to what my kids think, I’m not a health fanatic. It frustrates me that they would even think so. Why should healthy beliefs be abnormal, the oddity? Sure there are progressive pockets, but it’s definitely not the mainstream view especially in El Paso.

But getting on the health bandwagon is harder than it should be. For starters, it’s a lonely place. Get used to being scoffed at. Bring fruit and water when you’re in charge of snacks and few will value the gesture.

But junk food and sugared drinks? Everyone’s happy!

Well, I can at least write a column, right?


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