It’s a common refrain that living healthily costs an arm and a leg. The food bills, in particular, garner the biggest sighs and frustration: the price of pastured meats, eggs (and dairy for those who partake), of wild-caught fish, of organic this and that, of healthier nuts and nut butters, of just about any whole food. For some folks that doesn’t take into account the extra travel schlepping from place to place. Shopping for healthy food can be a long-range foraging expedition in some parts. Internet suppliers can help, but they don’t cover all the bases. The time, expense, and inconvenience of healthy food shopping (and preparation) add up, and some days we can wonder if it’s worth all the trouble. What if we just gave in? Gave up? What if we went back to buying the typical processed food products that seem to colonize nine-tenths of the country? Just think of the convenience – and the savings? Seriously, what would we do with all that money? For a while, it might seem like a financial boon. Over time, however, I think we’d be looking at another story.
Last week’s post about prevention got me thinking about the comparative costs of living healthily versus not. After all, we supposedly love a good deal in this country. We’re coupon clippers, discount store shoppers, bargain hunters. Are we really getting the good deal we think we are when we cut the quality of our food substantially? Some people, I understand, are in tougher straits than others and are feeding families on a few dollars (or less) a day with no other choice. For those of us without such dire constraints, it’s illuminating to look at the real cost of ill health. We know the choices that feed disease. We can all use a good reminder that the money we put toward a healthy lifestyle is wisely invested.
Simply compare the cost of disease. People with diabetes, for example, pay medical costs 2.3 times higher than those without diabetes. Out of pocket spending for medications jumped from 23% to 47% between 1996 and 2007. Add to this multiple co-pays for not just primary physicians but assorted specialists (e.g. ophthalmologists, nephrologists, endocrinologists) who often monitor diabetes-related concerns. People without insurance or with high deductibles can spend thousands of dollars on equipment, including the cost of a pump and testing strips. The CDC and Research Triangle International in their simulated model to assess what an individual would pay out over the course of a lifetime for diabetes and related complications expenses pinned the average number at around $85,000. For men diagnosed between the ages of 25-44, lifetime direct expenditures were estimated at $124,700 and for women in the same age range at $130,800.
For cancer, the costs can be financially devastating to individuals and families. Duke University research calculates the average out of pocket cancer expenses at $712 a month, which adds up to more than $8500 a year. For prostate cancer specifically, ongoing costs in a 5-year period have been estimated at over $42,500. For breast cancer, costs have been estimated at $16,910 for those younger than 65 (PDF) and $23,078 for those over 65.
For cardiovascular disease, the numbers vary considerably based on intervention, but they’re all sobering. Cardiac pacemaker insertion is calculated at $33,000. The average heart valve procedure with hospitalization is estimated at $49,000. A “severe” heart attack overall can cost a million dollars in direct and indirect costs when lost work time, follow up visits and rehabilitation are considered. Clearly, in every case, we’re looking at big numbers – startling numbers – even when you figure in insurance coverage (which varies considerably).
A few years ago I held a poll asking what readers spent per person, per month on Primal food (including all shopping sources – e.g. grocery stores, meat shares, CSAs). The results varied, but nearly 70% reported that they spend $200 or more per person per month. How do those numbers settle for you in comparison to the “big ticket” diseases above? We all have to pay for food: that’s a given. Do we deem the extra amount (whatever we believe that is) we pay for good, whole, “clean,” nutrient dense food worth the investment? Do we accept that eating well (and making other healthy Primal choices) lowers our risk so considerably with regard to disease and related disability? Do we accept the bigger food bills as a continual long-term investment in health and vitality? Do we appreciate what we will in all likelihood avoid paying (literally and figuratively) when we make that investment?
I know for me the first thing that comes to mind is what it’s worth to feel good day to day. What am I willing to pay to feel good right now – to enjoy a full day’s worth of consistent energy, to feel I can take up any activity I want at any given moment, to get a good night’s sleep, to not be plagued by any of the aches, pains and other issues I used to experience before going Primal? How valuable is it to me to be healthy and vital enough to enjoy my family, to enjoy my years in whatever way I want? What dollar amount would I affix to being able to heli-ski at age 60 instead of shift into low gear? In our own ways, we each ask ourselves these kinds of questions. What is your answer today?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Offer up your thoughts on investing in a Primal life, and have a great end to the week, everyone.