To Dream the Impossible Dream – A Healthcare Industrial Complex Member Learns to Behave?

Executive Summary

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

Don Q has his windmills and Davey H has the Healthcare Industrial Complex (HIC). For those of you who are new to the L4 blog, the HIC is a giant consortium of public institutions, private companies, and so-called “not-for-profit” entities that pretend they want to make you healthy and happy but in fact, really want to keep you sick and depressed. I’m talking about traditional health oriented entities like pharmaceutical companies, provider organizations, research institutions and government agencies. But, the HIC also includes the food industry and the media, both of whom influence our health in a more discrete yet equally important way.

Those of you who are not new to the L4 blog and whose eyes have stopped rolling upon my mention of the HIC know that I like to use Health magazine as my windmill of choice in gauging media culpability. It started with this earlier post and continued in a post on my Facebook page. So, how are they doing with the latest issue? Let’s take a look.

December 2015 Issue of Health Magazine


Starting with the cover, I’ll give Health some credit. Not only because Lindsey Vonn is gorgeous but because she doesn’t fit the stereotype of a Health cover model. She has more curves than the usual suspects. More importantly, she is an outspoken critic of the unreasonable body image expectations that the typical celebrity sets.

Now let’s look at the articles promoted on the cover. I usually look for the following loaded buzzwords and phrases:

  • Spot Reduce – without surgery you cannot focus fat reduction on individual parts of the body.
  • Foods that Burn Fat – no food has this ability.
  • <Insert Food Name Here> Cleanse – the idea that something like a juice fast will rid your body of toxins is bogus.
  • Superfoods – obsession over some individual food based and its magical quality to make you healthier is pure rubbish. Granola bars with flax seeds and acai berries are still junk food.

I’m pleased to say that the promos on this cover contain none of these blatant lies. “Blast Fat Fast” probably oversells the results of the two yoga poses presented in that article but I’m never one to discourage people from doing a little mind-body exercise work. The poses presented are challenging.

Even better is “Natural Medicine Guide.” It’s a fairly comprehensive guide on alternative therapies such as acupuncture, mindfulness/meditation, and nutrition counseling. It does a balanced job of describing the various options and their benefits without heavy-handed selling of specious claims. For example, the discussion on Reiki, a technique in which its practitioners channel positive energy through their hands to their patients, emphasizes that the therapy lacks sufficient research but may be worth a try.

Frankly, I’m surprised that the drug companies who seem to subsidize this whole magazine and who can’t patent therapies like yoga and massage would allow such an article. I bet they cut back their advertising budget for this issue!

Nope, as with the other reviewed issues, the drug companies bought one-third of the magazine’s pages for its own advertisements. If you don’t think this is a problem, consider this. Compared to other countries, American consumers pay the most for pharmaceuticals on a per subscription basis (see this link). This disparity is often attributed to the development cost of the drug as well as the huge amount of US regulation. Feh! Development costs are immune to borders. Meanwhile, the US is one of the few countries that allows drug companies to set their own prices. In other countries, where healthcare is a basic human right, they negotiate prices using the buying power of the “single payer.” Finally, when all else fails and they don’t get the costs down to a reasonable level, other countries leverage their rights to issue licenses that allow the use of an invention (e.g., a patented drug) without seeking approval from the patent holder on grounds of public interest. No, it’s not regulation that inflates our prices.

All those extra shekels we lay out are to pay for lobbying and marketing. Drug companies don’t offer a lot of transparency on their budgets but if you’re interested in digging into the weeds, read this from Your jaw will drop by how slimy the system is. But, for the sake of fairness, the drugwatch site is uncomfortably devoid of primary source references. I like to believe their mission is pure, but I’d be more satisfied if I knew where they pull some of their statistics from.

Let me rant on one other perpetrator before I let this go (for now). Food companies. About 10% of the pages in Health are ads for food of some kind. As far as Health magazine’s sponsors go, food companies are second only to big pharma. As you would expect in a magazine called Health, the food ads promote a health benefit to the featured products. Yet, only half of them are for real food. The rest is for over processed fake foods that had their natural nutrition stripped out and replaced with chemical crap. Examples include breakfast cereals such as Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats (Nutritious Wheat for the Adult You’ve Grown Into) and Special K Red Berries (the FDA won’t let Kellogg’s call them Freeze-Dried Strawberries because they’re much more than that).

So, after three iterations of tilting at this windmill, I see a little bright spot of hope (as described earlier) but the big problems are still there. The magazine’s sponsors want you to be sick. Why do I bother with this impossible dream? Because…

This is my quest
Despite hot cover stars
No matter how touched-up
Hiding surgery scars

To throw challenge flags
At their outrageous claims
To uncover deceit
By these sponsors of sickness and pain

And I know when the next issue’s here
And I flip page by page
That my face will turn beet-red and flush
As my mind fills with rage

Is the world any better for this?
Will this post make a difference at all?
Do you have a question as well?
If so, then please give me a call!


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