Prevention Is Healthier, More Efficient And Cheaper Than Sick-Care

Former Arkansas Governor and 2007 Natural Products Association (NPA) Keynote Speaker Mike Huckabee continues to stress the need for Americans to improve their lifestyle. I chatted with Governor Huckabee at the 2007 NPA convention and again this year. Huckabee, an avid supporter of dietary supplements, still wants to give citizens more control over their own health care choices.

He wants the government to be less restrictive in their support of healthy practices that can prevent sickness in the first place because prevention is more efficient, cheaper and healthier. However, present government policies pay for sickness rather than true prevention such as better nutrition and supplements and they impede the use of such healthy practices.

When he was governor of Arkansas, he was known as the “Health Governor.” Huckabee was one of 10 recipients of a 2006 American Association of Retired Persons’ Impact Award acknowledging his work as a “health crusader.”

He continues to be in the news, often defending health care measures that prevent illness rather than just treating it. He frequently mentioned how the nation needs to support citizens taking better care of themselves on his former Fox News Channel talk show, Huckabee (2008–2015).

Before we chat with Governor Huckabee about his latest views regarding nutrition, supplements and sick-care, let me quote a few comments from his keynote address at the 2007 NPA convention in Las Vegas. This address is the best that I have ever witnessed and I replay the CD recording at least yearly. He most likely was invited to be NPA’s keynote speaker because his views on preventative care with nutrition were bold for national figures at the time. Also, his book, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork (Center Street, 2005), which was based on his personal health experience had become an inspirational guide to many.

  Governor Mike Huckabee was the keynote speaker at the 2007 Natural Products Association convention in Las Vegas in July 2007. (Photo courtesy of NPA)

Governor Huckabee began his remarks with a frank revelation. “We are often told we have a health care crisis. We don’t have a health care crisis; we have a health crisis because we have a sick-care system. We have excellent health care. The tragedy is that we need every bit of it because we are a very sick country due to our diets and lifestyle.

“I understand the problems of our nation because I was faced with them as an individual. If you had asked me to speak five years before, I could have been the poster person for what not to do with the caption, ‘If you don’t start eating right and getting some activity in your life, you will end up like this.’

“But I changed my health lifestyle and habits and got rid of diabetes. Today, I stand here 110 pounds lighter and no longer with any of the symptoms of type-2 diabetes. Having reversed those things in my life, now I am able to do things I couldn’t do at age 18 and feeling better than ever.

“And the good news is that I am costing everyone else around me a whole lot less money. I believe that one of the goals that you bring in this industry is that it is not so much about intervention with more money; it’s about prevention. With prevention, we don’t have to spend as much and can save considerable money. In five years, we could save $25 billion alone in sick-care costs if we all as a people took four primary supplements.”

Governor Huckabee often added humor to his talk. He said, “Think of the savings we could accomplish if we switched from a sick-care centered nation to a nation that was focused on health. My own health got bad for a number of reasons, the least of which that I grew up in the Deep South, where we tend to batter everything and then deep-fry it. If it’s an entrée, we pour gravy on it and if it’s a dessert, we sprinkle powdered sugar on it.” I’ll add that such meals are frequently washed down with Southern super-sweet tea.

His message, however, was serious: “Eighty percent of our health care costs in this country are driven by chronic diseases that are largely preventable or curable by changing just three behaviors—overeating, under-exercising and smoking. Those three behaviors drive an overabundance of the health care costs in this country, which are now at 17% of our entire gross national product (GNP) every year. Understand that no other nation spends anywhere near that.

“If instead, we would spend just 11% of our GNP on healthcare—which is substantially large compared to other nations—we could save over $700 billion a year.

“What you do as an industry represents in many ways the front-line soldiers of helping Americans—not simply to engage in the health care issue, but the health issues. I would even suggest to you that the No. 1 challenge to us is to begin focusing—not so much on how we are going to have more intervention, but what are we going to do about the prevention. The real challenge is do we put our emphasis on treating more snakebites, or do we start killing the snakes before they bite us? Do we spend billions and billions of dollars building more ambulances to put at the bottom of the cliffs or do we spend a small amount to put a fence at the top so we don’t fall down the cliff in the first place?

“What you in this room represent is the army of people who get it, who understand that we cannot spend our way to good health if we wait until we are miserably sick, [who understand] that we need to be focusing on those steps in our lives that will prevent the illnesses rather than just treat them. To do that, it requires an entire cultural shift. Let me explain what I mean by that.

“Today, our society focusses on waiting until we are catastrophically ill before we begin to take the steps to be healthy. That’s the way our insurance companies reimburse us. Most insurance companies will reimburse us if we have a quadruple bypass because of a serious heart disease, but, if you went to your insurance company or employer and said, ‘Look, I don’t want to have a quadruple bypass so before I get to that point in the next 20 years or so, I’d like to see a nutrition counselor. I’d like to learn how to eat right with decent whole foods and I’d like to work with a personal trainer so that I could develop some exercises that would be good for me and I actually do on a daily basis. Your employer would probably tell you that’s a wonderful thing to do, but you’re on your own. We’re not going to spend a few hundred dollars for you to take care of yourself, but if you get really sick, we’ll spend several hundred thousands of dollars trying to put you back together again and pay your disability costs.

“Folks, at some point we just have to ask, ‘Doesn’t that sound just a little bit insane? Doesn’t that sound crazy that we wait until people are desperately ill before we want to do anything and then only as an intervention as opposed to prevention?”

I was pleased to learn that Governor Huckabee is now healthy. He went on to explain, “I take a whole host of supplements now including omega-3s, garlic, folic acid and B-vitamins, and you know what I find? I’m not very sick…hardly at all, and I’m not missing many work days as I used to.”

“When I was Governor, I wondered what do we do for people who are not sick? If you are sick, we give you sick days off from work with pay. If you don’t get sick, we give you the added work of those who are off sick and make them work extra. Now is that very smart?

“So we started a system where we gave employees points for healthy habits such as not smoking and taking health check-ups, programs for maintaining a healthy weight and paid some of the expenses of taking health programs and so forth. We found that was less expensive than the cost of having less healthy workers. That’s the direction we need to move towards in this country.

“I also noticed that all of our employees who wanted to smoke were allowed to go outside and smoke. It was mandated by law that we let them go outside several times a day and have their smoking breaks. But I asked, ‘What about the people who want to walk or run or exercise?’ You know what they were told? ‘Oh, you can do that on your lunch hour.’ Now think about how illogical that is. If you want to go and hurt yourself and cost us money, we’ll pay for that…we’ll subsidize it… and you can do it on company time. But, if you want to improve yourself and be more alert while you are sitting at your desk and cost us less money as your employer, then good luck and do it on your lunch hour.

“So, we started giving our employees walk and exercise breaks because we found it was in our best interests for us to help them take steps that would actually make them healthier. Healthy people not only come to work more, but they are able to perform at 100% and not the 60% efficiency that so many workers are limited to because of their health status.”

The Governor complimented the health food industry members present several times during his address as well as the good nutritional practices we support.  He said, “I am grateful that you are trying to change the direction of healthcare in our country. I think you are trying to help people understand that it is what we do and what we ingest into our bodies that make a big difference. It starts with nutrition.”

He explained, “One simple guideline about nutrition is that if it wasn’t a food 100 years ago, it probably isn’t a food today. Today, what most people eat is not food, but a food product. Many are chemical concoctions with a food name. I read the ingredients list. If it contains certain chemicals such as hydrogenated oil or high fructose corn syrup, I put it back. Read the box, sometimes it’s more healthy to throw the contents away and eat the box because it at least contains fiber.”

You can see why I was pleased to chat with him after these eight years. Here’s what he sees now.

Passwater: Governor Huckabee, you were the keynote speaker for the NPA’s 2007 convention. You pointed out several things that were wrong with our so-called “health care” system and also made suggestions for individuals who wish to improve their health. Have we made progress since 2007?

Huckabee: Some, but we’ve missed what could have been a great opportunity by creating a very polarizing, divisive and inefficient program. We spent $2.2 trillion on a health care reform law, which basically dumps millions of people into a broken, cumbersome, extremely expensive health care system. Our current system is upside down, and Obamacare has only made things worse by simply pouring more dollars into a flawed paradigm.

Passwater: During your keynote address to the NPA, you said that our present system is really a “sick care” system and what we need is a system to help make people healthier. Please elaborate.

Huckabee: Our system is illogical. Doctors, hospitals, drug companies and other providers do not get reimbursed for preventing illness or keeping people well, but rather for treating people who are sick. Due to “point of service” payments, a doctor who diagnoses and treats a patient right on the first visit will be paid less than one who needs several attempts. At the same time, there is really no personal financial gain for those who take care of themselves, follow their doctor’s orders or rarely use insurance. There is really nothing in the President’s $2.2 trillion health law that addresses the problem of “sick care”; it simply doubles down on this backwards, broken system.

Governor Mike Huckabee discusses his latest book, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy, earlier this year in Florida.  

Passwater: This isn’t merely a programmatic switch. Won’t it take a long while to accomplish?

Huckabee: Cultural changes are always generational. It was that way with litter, seat belts, smoking and drunk driving. The model and method is well established, but it doesn’t begin with government mandates and forced behavior. We must shift the focus of the system away from its current emphasis on intervention to one of prevention. America spends about 17% of our GDP on health care, which is drastically higher than any other country in the world. Almost 80% of these costs are used to confront and combat chronic disease. It doesn’t take a Nobel Prize-winning economist to tell you that we need to focus our efforts on preventing and efficiently managing these problems.

Passwater: In 2007, you suggested several points that people can use to stop the culture of chronic illness. My opinion is that you were right on target. Please repeat them here for our readers. But, you will be preaching to the choir, as most of our readers already follow this program.

Huckabee: Sure. I wrote about these in a book:

• Do not smoke—period! Tobacco is the only legal product sold that when used according to direction, WILL kill you.

• Exercise a minimum of three times per week, at least 30 minutes per session.

• Set specific, challenging, but realistic fitness goals for the month and the year.

• Eliminate processed sugar from your diet as much as possible, if not entirely.

• Do not eat anything with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

• Eat five servings a day minimum of fruits and vegetables.

• Insist on only whole grains when it comes to breads, pastas and cereals.

• Eliminate fried foods from your diet—for Southerners, as much as possible :) 

• Look for ways to become an empowered health consumer.

• Regularly read articles and books on health and fitness. This magazine is a good example.

• Understand the role and health benefits of dietary supplements.

• Do little things like taking the stairs instead of elevators, parking in the far end of parking lots, and walking to do errands.

• Sleep more!

There are a number of things people can do. More broadly, our country faces some serious health care challenges, and we simply cannot hold our breath waiting for Washington to address these complicated and very expensive problems. Individuals need to take control of their own lives and make decisions for themselves.

Passwater: What about your newest book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy (St. Martin’s Press, 2014)? What are some of the take home messages?

Huckabee: Don’t let the title lead you to believe that it’s a recipe book! Main Street and the middle-class are under attack by establishment elites in Washington, Wall Street and Hollywood who use their power to advance their agenda and undermine American values. We need to look inward to our communities, churches, heartland roots and timeless American values, if we expect to restore America’s promise and get our country back on track.

Passwater: Governor Huckabee, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about the need to change our health care system and emphasize prevention and nutrition more.

Huckabee: Thanks for the opportunity to engage with you and your readers. Hopefully, we can keep in touch! WF

Dr. Richard Passwater is the author of more than 45 books and 500 articles on nutrition. Dr. Passwater has been WholeFoods Magazine’s science editor and author of this column since 1984. More information is available on his Web site,

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2015