Garbage in, garbage out

May 26, 2019 | Blog | 4 comments

I remember my photography instructor in the Applied Communication Program stating with authority, “Garbage in, garbage out!”

A poorly composed photo will never be anything more than a poorly composed photo. My cohort in the early 2000’s was on the cusp of the change from film to digital processing. There was a perception that the new digital processing would save even the worst photo but it didn’t. His point was clear: get the photo right before snapping the shutter.

His statement from the front of the class still rings in my memory and I apply it to many aspects of my work and daily life. The quality of the output is the result of the quality of the input.

Let’s look at healthcare through this lens.

Facing the challenge

Last Sunday, I published a podcast with Dr. Ambrose Marsh. Healthcare in general, and access to primary care (family doctors) on the Saanich Peninsula specifically, is a big problem.

Our discussion in the podcast covers several aspects of health and well-being, but there is one aspect of the conversation that I want to shine a little more light on here. With the cost of our healthcare system over $20 billion and more than 40% of the whole provincial budget, simply throwing more money at the system is neither sustainable nor is it responsible.

For more than a decade, my physical, mental and spiritual health were poor. I drank copious amounts of sugary drinks, regularly ate fast food and did very little physical activity. I was 50lbs. overweight and while I was able to function in public events, when they were over, I retreated into darkness. Overall, I was very unhappy.

Things began to change when I was creating a Mii on my nephews Wii Fit. After I plugged in all my vital statistics, the program let me know that I was morbidly obese. A chronic procrastinator, I knew I could no longer ignore the signs and that the next visit to the doctor was going to be a conversation about diabetes.

At the core of my dramatic situation were unbelievably poor eating habits. Sugar binges and late-night snacking were just two of the many ways I was slowly destroying myself. Garbage in.

The result was a deep sadness. In addition to my physical health, my mental and spiritual health were also struggling. I was barely able to get through tasks, my work lacked quality and I made poor decisions. Garbage out.

Nutrition, recreation and wellness

This post is a lot about me, but it is also a lot about each one of us. Our healthcare system serves about 5 million individuals who make hundreds of choices every day. When I decided to make different decisions about what I was going to put into my body, my body quickly responded positively.

Once I took control of my nutrition and my daily diet, all other aspects of my life began to improve. Sugary drinks, gone. Fast food, gone. Bread, late night snacks and processed foods, gone.

The provincial government simply cannot afford to continue the culture of spending our way out of the problem. Our health institutions are more expensive than ever, the front line workers are more exhausted and our outcomes are not improving. The current situation is not effective and incredibly wasteful.

Just like my old photography instructor clearly outlined, the opportunity to improve the result is right before before snapping the picture. Focus on the quality of the input. As it is currently designed, our healthcare system helps people manage the outcome of a society powered by highly processed, low quality food and nutrition. We are in desperate need of transforming our system from a focus of managing sickness to living in wellness.

Image by David Z from Pixabay

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  1. Bill Kennedy

    I have to mention the countless times I’ve seen children and teenagers shopping for vegetables at the grocery store. It’s exciting to see a 14 year old boy sorting through green beans to find the best. One time a girl about 9 years old was beside me at checkout with a bag of pre-made salad. She could barely see over the counter. A future chef?

  2. Norm Hamilton

    Hi Adam. Thanks for your blog posts. They’re informative and thought provoking.

    Interestingly, your personal health story is very similar to mine, with the exception that it took me longer to clue in. There’s a reason for the old adage, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    I agree that being proactive in our approach to health would not only benefit the overall health of citizens, but would also greatly reduce the financial burden on the system.

    I wonder, however, if the reason is lack of understanding by our elected officials of the benefit of healthy diet, exercise, etc., or if it’s simply easier to explain the expenditure in a reactive system than it is a proactive one?

    After all it’s easier to show why we spent $20 billion when we can point to medical treatments, hospitals and the like than it is to say we only spent $10 billion plus $2 billion on health education, information and support. Many people would question the $2 billion because it’s difficult to show the benefit of the expenditure, especially to those who don’t believe in proactive health. The $2 billion is also a target for hopefuls during an election.

    Government appears to look at each item in a budget as an entity of it’s own instead of viewing the overall picture. A difficult conundrum to overcome.


  3. Jan Steinman

    My “aha moment” was when, picking up a prescription for a friend, I casually stuck my arm in the free blood-pressure machine.

    “Hmmm…” 141/90… That was the first time in my life I’d been over 120/80. Then I began having minor chest pain. Oh no — my body is trying to tell me something!

    I changed my non-stop coffee for green tea, stopped almost all alcohol, made time in my day for regular exercise, and what I think is most important, stopped having sugary snacks in-between meals. (I still have an occasional dessert after a meal.)

    Within a week, it was 125/85.

    This has been revolutionary! Now, when I have an occasional cup of good, quality, tasty coffee, I thoroughly enjoy it, rather than quickly slugging it back for the caffeine hit. I have a nice craft brew beer now and then, and really enjoy it, rather than routinely having one at the end of the day to unwind. And when I have an after-dinner dessert, it seems to taste so much better than the cookies or candy I used to eat in between meals, putting me on a hypoglycaemic yo-yo. And it’s so nice to enjoy a walk in nature, rather than staring at a computer all day.

  4. Julie Northey

    “We are in desperate need of transforming our system from a focus of managing sickness to living in wellness.”….and this is why I must continue to ask for change with regards to the burning of wood in all residential areas…we are TOO CLOSE, and wood smoke as you know is highly carcinogenic. Salt Spring Island has crisis air pollution. Please, please, as a Green MLA, you must recognize this as out dated, unconscionable behaviour, and it no longer works .”climate change” and poor eating habits- all linked. Thank you .


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