The bittersweet truth about the epidemic affecting health care workers


It was the first day of my prestigious internship at the cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation center. I was a senior in college and eager to apply my knowledge from the field of exercise physiology to make an impact on the people beginning rehab. This was my first real opportunity to work as part of a health care team while proving that this is the right field for me to be in.

Hours flew by as I watched energetic members of the staff cater to the every need of the patients. I wasn’t used to this 8 to 5 schedule, so I must have checked the clock at least fifteen times until lunch arrived. The clock eventually struck noon as the eleven members of our staff gathered around this rectangular table to take an hour break from work. One by one, everyone grabbed their lunch from the fridge and sat down. As I looked up from my turkey sandwich, I was surrounded by more 12-ounce cans of soda than actual human beings at my table.

The sound of fizzing became a common theme at lunchtime for the entire duration of my 500-hour internship.

Throughout my internship, I learned a significant amount by spectating, but my most surprising discovery must have been the dependence health care providers have on drinks loaded with sugar.  Packs of Coca-Cola, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Sprite were brought into work each Monday and consumed religiously during the work week. I interned at a rehab facility where the majority of patients were enrolled after undergoing a major cardiac operation. The staff preached the benefits of proper nutrition, exercise and physical health to the patients each and every time they walked in.

Why is it that the providers who make a living trying to get people healthier have the worst habits?

They know each sip is a slew of sludge running through their arteries and veins; so is temporary pleasure worth their well-being? Maybe even more shocking than the actual action, is the acceptance among health care professionals.

The fast paced and demanding lifestyle of a health professional is well documented. Quick fixes are usually the short term solution to the demands of the medical field. Our society values knowledge, yet this health epidemic is glorified in commercials and stocked at the entrance of grocery stores. The most recent dietary guidelines issued by the United States government suggest limiting one’s daily sugar intake to 10 percent of daily calories. The dietary guidelines for adults and children age 4 and over are based upon a 2,000 calorie diet. Some quick grade school math shows that daily sugar intake for the average person should not exceed 200 calories a day. A 12 ounce can of Mountain Dew contains 46 grams of sugar and 1 gram of sugar is roughly equal to 4 calories.

My point being that one 12 ounce can of Mountain Dew is equal to 92 percent of the daily sugar intake for the average person. As far as sugar goes, that’s getting one’s money’s worth.

The number of people affected by chronic illnesses such as coronary artery disease and diabetes is growing exponentially each year. There is no doubting that these diseases are becoming more prevalent due to the abundance of sugar in today’s society. Next time you are at the store, check the sugar of the items in your cart. You may be surprised, even shocked at how difficult it is to eat healthy. We must demand change as consumers; it is no longer acceptable for our health to be secondary to the taste of our food. Do not be afraid to talk to your peers about their health choices. As an aspiring medical student, I believe the best treatment is prevention.

In the words of Ann Wigmore, “The food we eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” Health care professionals are supposed to be the role models of health not the embodiment of hypocrisy.

The author is an anonymous premedical student.

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