Michael PollanMichael PollanNPR’s Guy Raz: What if health care is overhauled and it doesn’t change the American diet in any way?

Michael Pollan: We’ll go broke. If we don’t get a handle on these health care costs, the new system or the old system, we’ll go broke. And that’s why I think that really food is the elephant in the room when we’re talking about health care.

First in The New York Times last week and then on NPR this weekend, Michael Pollan made that point that if we want to fix our health-care system, we have to fix our food system.

From his op-ed in the Times:

[T]he fact that the United States spends twice as much per person as most European countries on health care can be substantially explained, as a study released last month says, by our being fatter. …

That’s why our success in bringing health care costs under control ultimately depends on whether Washington can summon the political will to take on and reform a second, even more powerful industry: the food industry. …

Cheap food is going to be popular as long as the social and environmental costs of that food are charged to the future. There’s lots of money to be made selling fast food and then treating the diseases that fast food causes. One of the leading products of the American food industry has become patients for the American health care industry.

But even with that grim diagnosis, Pollan is optimistic about the future, arguing that if insurance companies are required to accept everyone, as called for by even weak health-reform legislation now in Congress, then the insurance industry will become a powerful ally in fight for better food and against the agribusiness lobby.

Grist’s Tom Laskawy is less optimistic, noting that the poor and the elderly — the most unhealthy groups — are likely to keep getting their health coverage from the government (Medicare, Medicaid, and the VA) and not the insurance industry.

Still, both Pollan and Laskawy are encouraged by New York City’s new anti-soda ad campaign, which Laskawy says is supported by health insurance companies. Will we see more such public-health campaigns around the country, no matter what happens with health-care reform in Washington, D.C.?

Here’s an ad from NYC’s campaign:

Anti-soda ad