How 21st century consumerism is affecting health

Chronic disease is rising rapidly in America and throughout the developed world. Today, according to the CDC a shocking 71.6% of adults are either overweight or obese. Moreover, over the last few decades, rates of hypertension, diabetes, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s, major depressive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, insomnia, and multiple other chronic diseases are rising over time. Likewise, medical costs are rising over time year after year and today costs the US a staggering $3.8 trillion (or about 18% of GDP) per year.

What’s causing this adverse effect on our health and on our expenses?  Let me suggest to you that the reason doctors like myself have failed to contain the rising burden of chronic disease is because we have misdiagnosed the source of our ailments. I’d like to suggest to you that the list of chronic diseases above (and others) are actually only symptoms of a different disease that is largely unrecognised and unappreciated. 

Just as pneumonia causes various symptoms from a fever, chills, cough, body aches, shortness of breath among others, the various chronic diseases listed above are only symptoms of a different disease altogether which is the actual cause of these various 'symptoms'. You don’t need to be a doctor or nurse to know that it’s a futile endeavour to treat just the cough or fever in a patient with pneumonia. Unless you direct your treatment at the underlying pneumonia, it will continue to wreak havoc upon your ill patient.

So, what is that underlying disease causing our various ailments? Anyone knows that a healthy diet, exercise and good sleep are the foundational pillars to living a healthy life. On the surface, its easy to see that in our modern society we eat too much processed foods, are too sedentary and do not sleep sufficiently well. 

In fact, studies demonstrate that at least 97.3% of individuals (a conservative estimate) fail to meet these well-established standards for healthy living. In other words, something is very wrong if it is so rare for individuals to live a healthy life.

When you do a root cause analysis in search of the underlying pathology that is reason for our failure to meet the foundational pillars of healthy living, what you’ll come to discover is that in fact mindless consumerism that is the cause of our various ailments. Consumerism, i.e. the spending of our money in pursuit of goods and services, beyond a certain point, far from enhancing our life is adversely affecting our health in ways that most people have a hard time realising. In my new book, Health in Flames, I identify at least four major ways by which consumerism is hurting our health and what we can do about it.

In the first place it ties us down to modern working conditions commonly characterised by long sedentary hours in front of a computer along with rush hour traffic to and from work for years on end. It is compounded by minimal attention to our diet on account of our busy lifestyle leaving us little time to prepare real nourishing food along with poor sleep and stress.

Secondly, consumerism leads to the purchase of certain conveniences whereby we have inadvertently engineered out the need for exercise in our daily living. Third, the mindless pursuit of goods and services introduce toxins into our environment which contribute to climate change, environmental degradation beyond just climate change, and endocrine disruptors like micro-plastics.

These toxins are adversely impacting our health to the tune of hundreds of thousands of premature deaths per year or likely much higher.  Finally, consumerism leads to workers whose focus is to maximise profits even if it leads to the products and services that compromise the health of their customers.

It turns out that the diagnosis is the hard part, treating this underlying disorder is easy. By overcoming 'mindless' consumerism and then applying some fairly basic investing principles with the money saved, individuals are likely to benefit themselves in a myriad of ways. Anyone who follows the prescription for a new way of living outlined in the book will find themselves happier, healthier, wealthier, more engaged and simply better!