Comparing the stats: The US Food System and US Health Care System

I just completed my second MOOC, entitled An Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Perspectives from Public Health | Coursera, (I passed!), and while learning about the food system, that part of society we are not really taught about in medical school, I started to create a little comparison chart of the data comparing the two industries.

  How much $ % US GDP Number of workers Proportion of total US workforce (145 million) % of green house gas emissions
Health Care 2.7 Trillion 18% 16 million   11 % 8%
Food System 1.8 Trillion 13% 20 million  17 % 7%

I’ve compiled all the references in this happy link cloud, feel free to click through to verify or improve the accuracy of the data.

I thought the comparison was interesting because one might expect that these two would collaborate to make each other successful, which would mean a healthy workforce and healthy society. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case today. 

Then I came across this quote that was offered in the course, that summarized things:

There is no connection between food and health. People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are healed by the health industry, which pays no attention to food.

It follows that there is no connection between healing and health. Hospitals customarily feed their patients poor-quality, awful-tasting, factory-made expensive food and keep them awake all night with various expensive attentions. There is a connection between money and health. – Wendell Berry

The second part of the quote is being worked on today, through the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (@HHIorg) – Kaiser Permanente is a founding member. The first part of the quote seems like the next frontier, do you agree?

Thanks, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (@livablefuture) for supplementing my medical education with education about health :).


Perhaps if we required the food system to provide adequate health insurance to their 20 million workers they would finally realize the negative impact and cost of the food they are manufacturing.
Great piece. And Coursera is terrific!

Ted Eytan, MD