Thursday, January 5, 2012

We have a pill for that

Fat monkeys of the world, rejoice! A new fat-starving drug has been successful in reducing the amount of fat in experimental apes by as much as 11 percent of body weight. Researchers are all agog with dreams of the drug’s applicability to not only reduce weight but, by extension, also reduce certain cancers, etc. in the human population.

But is this really a success story we should be celebrating?

We have become a society of pill-takers. This is not new, but technology seems to have accelerated the pace of “miracle cures” for problems that we should be trying to avoid in the first place. If you have an obesity problem, exercise more and don’t eat so many Big Macs. But instead we say, go ahead, don’t worry about self control or discipline, we can fix you up later. (I know, there are people for whom obesity is truly a medical issue, but they are an insignificant number compared to the 25% of the population deemed obese by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2007.)

Cancer is no different. Literally billions of dollars are spent trying to find a cure for a disease which we know is, in large part, triggered by lifestyle choices. How much is spent on prevention? Other than anti-smoking campaigns, a pittance. So go ahead and pollute the Athabaska River with tar sands run-off, spray our food crops with pesticides and fungicides and other toxins, chemically treat our fabrics and building materials, continue to mine and export asbestos to India, and when you get sick, which you inevitably will, we hope to have a pill for that too. (And by the way, please send more money.)

If we were to take the same approach to drunk driving we would celebrate the availability of cheap caskets as a solution to the problem of impaired drivers on our roads.

Life is all about choices. Some are easy (what to have for dinner) and some are hard (quitting smoking). If we as individuals, corporations, and governments really wanted to improve health and reduce medical costs we’d be spending as much money or more on the prevention side of the ledger as we do on the cure side. It only makes sense.