The truth of “An apple a day…”

Dear Shopper,

I was clipping newspapers again the other day and was heartened to see that things are happening across this country at the local level, in many cases as the result of local agitation, to deal with our poor eating habits and how they are affecting our individual and collective health.

I grew up hearing that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and each year it seems that scientists learn something new about why that is more than just an old wives’ tale. The Wall Street Journal reported on a study that found that a compound in apple skins “increases the activity of a protein that has been found to stimulate muscle growth and glucose metabolism in mice.” And while these data have yet to be tested in humans, they have led scientists to believe that the apple is even healthier for us than was originally thought.

This report reminded me that the prevention message in the old adage is based on a fundamental belief, now being validated by science, that real food keeps us healthy. When most people in this country ate mostly real food, we did not suffer the epidemics of preventable diseases and conditions that we do now. The message was the medium — it was in the food we ate — and we knew it even before it was proven in a lab because we had seen it in our own lives for centuries. We believed that eating well, not just eating anything, kept us mentally strong and physically alert. Since those good ole days, it seems that much of what we eat has became our bane rather than our savior.

Now we see articles about vouchers being prescribed by pediatricians at community health clinics for produce at farmers’ markets and schools changing their menus not just to add more healthy foods but to substitute them for the processed foods that have become as much a part of the school lunch program as the home dinner program. Insurance companies are getting in on the act and stepping up to reward companies such as IBM that support employee healthy-living programs. In our own community, the Fairfax County government has developed its own Live Well program with similar goals and motivation.

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine admitted that it will take a massive effort by all segments of our society to reverse the obesity epidemic. Change is coming slowly, more from the bottom up than the top down and motivated more by common-sense informed frustration than by science-based, vision-driven government programs. After reading that Bank of America is recommending 50 stocks for investors looking to cash in on the “obesity theme,” I was reminded that those efforts to fight obesity are not viewed as realistic by stakeholders. I wonder why.

I was also reminded how slowly that change is a-comin’ when I learned that the Fairfax County schools are spending $200,000 this year to pay for a study and hire a consultant to look at how to improve nutrition in their schools. How many more studies do we need? I could probably pull together studies and evaluations of existing programs from all over the country, read them all and make workable recommendations in about a month. And in the meantime, that $200,000 could go to buying apples from local farmers and starting the process of improving the health of our children right away.

We are learning more every day about the importance of real food to our real health. Why is it taking so long to make more of that real food available to our children? Just remove the potato chips or the pizzas with 70 ingredients, most of them not food, and give them an apple a day — how hard is that?