Dr. Ezekiel Emaneul on Food, Health Care, and Media
Maggie BordenMaggie Borden
October 23, 2014
The 2014 JBF Food Conference, taking place October 27 and 28 in New York City, will explore the intersection of food and health. Our speakers and panelists will discuss the myriad ways in which food supports personal and public health; fails to deliver on the promise of better health; and both drives and responds to other cultural forces in America today.
In anticipation of this two-day event, we're talking about health all month here on the JBF blog. In the post below, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel shares his thoughts on the status of public health in America, as well as the roles of both physicians and the media in improving our eating habits. A leading authority on bioethics, Emanuel served as one of the key advisors for the Affordable Care Act, and will deliver the keynote address on the first day of our conference. Watch a live broadcast at jbffoodconference.org.
JBF: Do you think doctors have a responsibility to advise their patients on nutrition? If so, how do we improve the training and education that medical students receive about nutrition?
EE: (laughing) Well, since so much of health care is intimately related to diet, it does seem integral for doctors to be working with their patients on diet, whether it’s for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or cancer. My medical school training was probably not unique—we had no time devoted to diet. Literally nothing, other than to note how important diet was! So it does seem to me that medical education is one place we need to rethink the role of diet.
JBF: Do you think that it should be integrated into public school health curriculums?
EE: Look, I don’t think we can spare any avenues. You know, I’ve often thought that we should bring back home economics classes. I don’t think that’s such a crazy idea.
JBF: What do you think about the media coverage of diet and health and the connection between the two? There seem to be articles that point both ways: “you should drink red wine, you shouldn’t drink red wine.” It goes back and forth.
EE: I mean, that part is just science. First of all, I think it’s gotten better, if anything. We have more media attention on good diet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve simultaneously had a big drop in soda consumption while there’s all this negative publicity around it. So I’m actually positive, not negative, about the media discussion.
JBF: The midterm elections are coming up, as well as the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s rollout. How do you think the program is going?
EE: Well, the whole menu labeling thing has not gone as well as it could have, in my opinion. It’s taken way too long to get the regulations written, and I think that’s a problem. It shouldn’t take years, and that’s largely a result of the fighting by supermarkets against the regulations. It’s a key part of this bill in terms of nutrition, and I think that there was obviously some use of funds in the public-health trust fund meant for this that were used for other purposes. But you know, I’ve always viewed the doctor’s office as probably not the key place to communicate health or diet information to people. That’s really a public health measure, and I think, on that score, the efforts of First Lady’s Let’s Move! Initiative are probably more important.
JBF: Can people’s votes in the upcoming election have any impact on the lobbying around the issue of menu labeling?
EE: No, there are too many other things going on there. I just don’t see that anyone’s going to interpret the midterm elections in that light.
JBF: So you really feel like it comes down to a policy issue.
EE: Yes, and I think that people are keen on the issue. I think people want improvement. Another thing to mention is the school lunch program, and how we need to focus on increasing its funding and putting more focus on diet, as opposed to finding ways of helping farmers.
JBF: How do you feel about the ACA?
EE: The ACA is definitely positive on almost every dimension. This is just a small aspect of it. And again, I think, not a major contributor to improving diet issues.
JBF: So you believe it’s mainly a media and public awareness issue?
EE: Yes, exactly.
Tune into jbffoodconference.org on October 27 and 28 for a live broadcast of the JBF Food Conference.
Maggie Borden is assistant editor at the James Beard Foundation. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.