The Saboteurs of Health in America

Creating addiction is an especially profitable business model, and business is booming in every segment of our society.

Your health is your most valuable resource. Unfortunately, society provides precious little guidance to improve it, and in fact creates tremendous pressure toward physical incapacity, disease, and mental angst. In a world where we dogmatically revere neutrality, those who take a stand will win the day, and the only ones doing it are small but powerful groups of insidious, brilliant manipulators.

Your health is your most valuable resource. Unfortunately, society provides precious little guidance to improve it, and in fact creates tremendous pressure toward physical incapacity, disease, and mental angst. In a world where we dogmatically revere neutrality, those who take a stand will win the day, and the only ones doing it are small but powerful groups of insidious, brilliant manipulators.

There is no neutral ground on this issue. To remain impartial is to ensure your entrenched unhealthiness. In the case of schools and parents, doing nothing enables the poor health of those in your care. It may not be your fault, but it is your problem.

Our schools and developmental institutions have been negligent in their duty to become the authority in human development that parents can look to for direction. They’ve gotten so lost in perception-based outcomes that they forgot that their purpose is to prepare a generation to live inspired lives and reach their potential. Our core curricula have nothing to do with what humans need for success in life, or the education central to great citizens.

Who are these manipulative entities who pose as the benign, harmless perks of the modern world? Who are these sinister, deceptive influences convincing you that you need them, even while your nation slips into epidemic levels of physical and mental health disorders? In no particular order, they are the convenience food industry, the technology industry, and the pharmaceutical industry.

Addiction Is Business, and Business Is Booming

These manipulators employ our human nature against us to create paradoxically unnatural habits. The advance of technology has allowed for chemical combinations and constant sensory overload that our biology was not designed to handle.

Our survival instincts tell us to gorge when we see food, especially high calorie food. The lizard brain still believes this could be its last meal ever. Our operating system is not built for a world of all-you-can-eat buffets and homes filled with boxes of cookies and dessert cereals.

It’s not built for a world of algorithms that deliver the perfect video “up next;” where we have eliminated any possibility of boredom, and made it a requirement to curate highlight reels of our lives for thousands to see.

This is an essential area of human education in our era of abundance. Unfortunately, it is not taught anywhere. Our oversight is the manipulator’s opportunity. They spend lavishly, studying our minds and how we can best become addicted.

Addiction is a great business model. It means a reliable consumer inclined to overconsume. You “have to have” a few Dr. Peppers a day. Cha-ching. You “gotta keep your Snapchat streak going,” and feel an overwhelming compulsion to “catch up on social media” after a brief work meeting. Cha-ching, cha-ching. You watched that funny video your dad sent, and next thing you know you’ve spent an hour watching trick shots and dogs chasing their tails. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.

We tell ourselves that these things are not addictive. We just like them, we say, and could choose to quit if and when they actually became a problem. Our denial and underestimation of the scientists’ mastery of addiction is tragic.

We do retain the power to make changes, but our dependencies and habits are manipulated just as easily as the rat in the lab. Once exposed to the alluring poison, we have to overcome the powerful drive of our biology. If that was not enough, we also must do so against the momentum of our entire culture, and from a starting point of almost zero relevant education. We are woefully unprepared for the world we have created.

Flying to Our Own Demise

To grasp the insanity of our disinterest in these trends, imagine that moths were somehow granted the same brain power that humans have, and that they already had access to the same scientific heritage and an organized education system. Despite this, imagine that they still have no qualms about dying from kamikaze attacks on fire and fluorescent light bulbs.

Moths were not prepared for the dawn of agricultural societies reliant on fire, much less the billions of artificial lights in industrialized societies. Wouldn’t it seem careless for our super-intelligent moths to ignore this inconvenient biological impulse? Wouldn’t you expect them to devote some degree of attention to the dangers of flying towards light, or how best to avoid this shocking demise?

If the moth example was happening to humans, we would probably respond because of the acute, dramatic style of self-destruction. Yet our indifference to the 200% increase in suicides among kids ages 10-14 indicates we’re more stubbornly apathetic than even I believed possible. We repeatedly fly to our demise, despite every opportunity to avoid it.

As a society, we have a plethora of research and press that illustrates how our biology has been hacked to create profitable addictions. We see the headlines that this is the unhealthiest generation, physically and emotionally, in the history of the world. Yet we remain on course, complicit in the promotion and normalization of this addiction to our youth, as if there is nothing we can do about it.

The Avalanche of Poor Health

Need more convincing? Since 1970, obesity has more than tripled in youth ages 6-19. Obesity, a significant step above the overweight classification, is becoming the most prominent BMI category: 38% of United States adults are now obese.

By 2030, just 12 years from now, indications are that it will reach 44%. In 1991, nearly every state had less than 10% of residents who were obese. By 2011, every single state was above 20%. Projections are that in just a couple decades, the 13 worst states will see obesity rates at 60% or above.

As this becomes more normal, it will only continue to snowball. BMI may be a flawed metric at the individual level, but the realities of these epidemiological trends are overwhelming.

This is not about aesthetics or “shaming” people into looking a certain way. These are the consequences of a culture that has indoctrinated generations with the belief that loads of sugar, easy macaroni, and fast food are the bulk of a typical diet. Your body cannot operate well under this barrage.

The effects range from widespread fatigue and limited cognitive ability to emotional distress, movement limitation, and startling epidemics of dozens of diseases. The result, despite our technological breakthroughs, is the first generation in modern history that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents.

We’ve created a path that makes the deadly and all-consuming affliction of obesity practically inevitable for future generations. We’d almost be better off if we made nutrition and physical literacy the backbone of education, while giving kids cigarettes. As much as I’m against tobacco use, this bizarre world would lead to less limited, more fulfilled lives than the culture we’ve currently embraced.

Add to this an environment where smart phones have gone from nonexistent to ubiquitous in only a decade. These devices further deter us from moving, but even more concerning is the addiction, anxiety, and social alienation they’ve brought with them. We’ve not been given the framework to use these tools without them addicting and, in effect, using us. Just examine how our youth’s mental health has declined in just five short years, between 2010 and 2015:

  • The number of youth indicating they felt useless and joyless increased 33%
  • Suicides of adolescents aged 13-18 jumped 31%
  • 25% of 13-18-year-olds now have mild to moderate anxiety

These numbers began their rapid increase as teen smart phone ownership crossed the 50% mark in 2012, and reached 73% in 2015. Research has also shown that spending more time online each day corresponds with increasing mental health issues. Suicide risk factors “rose significantly” after two or more hours online per day. As our reliance on these devices deepens, mental health will only get worse, unless we intentionally create an educational path to counter them.

Ask Your Doctor About…

Exacerbating all these health concerns is our society’s proclivity to treat symptoms rather than causes, and to seek the quickest, most superficial solution. The popular narrative for any malady defers responsibility.

Rather than investigate the environmental triggers, we eagerly accept any of the ever-growing list of diagnoses that allow us to medicate. We want the pill that will solve our issues, a reality that pharmaceutical companies have created, and then preyed upon.

The explosion of physical and mental health disorders is tailormade for Big Pharma. It provides the perfect confluence of circumstances to exploit our lust for convenient fixes that require no work at all. They’ve created a culture of drug consumers happy to let pills “solve” their problems, while creating terrifying side effects and crippling addiction.

Look no further for an example than the rampant over-diagnosis of ADHD sweeping across our youth, and now, after a genius marketing campaign, our adults. With this has come the abuse of addictive stimulants like Adderall and Concerta. The loudest critic is Dr. Keith Connors, the man who first formed the ADHD diagnosis. He contends that the alleged ADHD epidemic is, in a word, “preposterous.”

But what else would you expect in this bizarre world where pharmaceutical companies can advertise straight to the consumer? The free-for-all in drug marketing has led to an opioid epidemic responsible for over 20,000 deaths from overdoses in 2015 alone. This doesn’t even factor in the large numbers of heroin-related deaths from people seeking a cheaper substitute for their painkillers.

What Can We Do About It?

“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The question remains: what will we do with this information? Do we shake our heads, shrug our shoulders, and concede defeat to a world gone mad? Or do we decide our lives are made for more than that? Will we risk rocking the boat and hurting a few feelings to begin fighting for the future of our children?

Over the next several weeks, we will examine each of these manipulative forces. I’ll make the argument that we can stop and reverse these trends through a strong education system that embraces its responsibility to be the authority in human development.

It starts with parents and concerned citizens drawing the line, and demanding their schools take notice. Hopefully this series shifts your perspective on the role of education and how we can best create great people. At the very least, I hope it creates more intention in how you consume.

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