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Inaugurating Alternative Medicine

Friday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal featured a convincing opinion piece on the mainstreaming of alternative medicine. It was written by the nation’s leading experts on integrative healthcare, a group I’ll call the Wholesome Foursome: Deepak Chopra, Andrew Weil, Dean Ornish and Rustum Roy.

“Our ‘healthcare system’ is primarily a disease-care system,” the group wrote, pointing out that $2.1 trillion was spent last year on medical care, or 16.5% of our gross national product. And most of that money was spent on conditions that are preventable, like diabetes and heart disease.

So, doctors, what’s the remedy? Diet and lifestyle! As the country prepares for its historic moment next Tuesday, supermarket retailers should get ready for change, too. President-elect Barack Obama’s statements during the campaign regarding healthcare all point to a new emphasis on prevention. Integrative medicine — which combines conventional practices with alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga and herbal remedies — has a real chance now of getting mainstream attention and official government sanction.

Where will much of this change play out? Right in the supermarket. Retailers like Safeway, Hy-Vee and Hannaford are already implementing new healthcare programs for their associates that stress lifestyle changes as an incentive for lower premiums; in the aisles, a number of new programs debuting this year promise to make shoppers smarter about nutrition. The list goes on. In a sense, food retailers are destined to play a bigger role as the emphasis on prevention is finally, truly integrated into our American lives.

“These approaches emphasize personal responsibility and the opportunity to make affordable, quality healthcare available to those who most need it,” the Wholesome Foursome wrote of alternative therapies. “Mr. Obama should make them an integral part of his healthcare plan as soon as possible.”