Introduction: Coming up on this episode of the Doctor’s Pharmacy,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: It is shocking to me how often people just simply don’t believe something is possible, and that’s the first step.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Welcome to the Doctor’s Pharmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. That’s farmacy with an f, a place for conversations that matter. And if you’ve ever wondered how to solve the big problems in the world, I’ve ever been intimidated by them being too big to think about and just give up. This conversation is going to matter. We’re going to talk about how to deal with the real big issues that are facing us today as a society. And we have an extraordinary guest, Rajiv Shah, who’s a friend and the president of the Rockefeller Foundation. If you read his bio, you might think he’s a hundred years old. He worked first for the Al Gore campaign after graduating from New Penn Medical School and also got his degree at Wharton and also a degree from the London School of Economics. He also then went to work for the Gates Foundation, helping vaccinate 700 million children, saving 6 million lives. He went on to work after that with the Obama administration and helped with the US AID, which is the Agency for International Development to help solve some of the biggest health crises in the world and developmental crises. He’s now the president of the Rockefeller Foundation is focused on really solving some of the world’s biggest problems from climate change to energy, scarcity, hunger, preventable deaths, chronic disease, food is medicine, the list goes on and on and on. And I’m just so delighted to have Raj on the podcast today. So welcome.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Thank you, mark. Great to be with you.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Okay, so I was reading your book, big Betts, which is just a fabulous book everybody, by the way, here’s the book and everybody needs to get a copy. Today is out. And I encourage you to get a copy because really about how do we think about some of the big crisis we’re facing? And I think you’re very bold. You look at problems that would make other people run and hide under the covers. And you go, let’s go. Let’s figure this out. And solve these problems in ways that they require really different kind of thinking. And your book, big Betts really is about re-imagining how we solve these big problems and what are the tools we need? How do we think differently about them? What are the resources we need? And you talk about how most people think you have to be a billionaire or a president or a saint like Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela to fix the big problems in the world.
Dr. Mark Hyman: But what’s really impressive to me is that your aspiration is to be a billionaire. You want to impact the lives positively of over billions of people on the planet, right? That’s the kind of billionaire you want to be. Surprise for a moment there. I thought that wouldn’t be bad either way it works. You look at me like, no, it’s not my ambition. But you are ambitious because you want to positively impact the lives of billions of people, which most think, oh, maybe I can help with my local school board, I can help with my community, or, but how do you think big? And you’re a first generation Indian American immigrant, your family really scraped by and struggle to get here. Your grandparents sacrificed so much to get them here. I actually have kind of got chills actually, just remembering the stories in your book about your grandfather coming over on the plane and seeing your dad and looking ashen and feeling so horrible because your dad had made him to buy the ticket and had to use his retire money because he thought your dad didn’t have any
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Money, saved some money on the exchange
Dr. Mark Hyman: Rate. Exactly. And they were just so relieved when they realized that your dad was doing okay. And the moment it seemed like things really changed for you was when you saw Nelson Mandela. He recently got out of Robin Island, he was released from prison, he came to America, he came to Detroit, a Tiger Stadium where you’d watched many games and he gave a speech that you watched in your living room with your family. Can you talk about that moment for you and what actually went through your body and your mind and your soul that actually made you inspired to become the man you are?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, mark, it is great to be with you and you’re such a amazing leader who’s doing so many things that we’re also proud of. So thank you for having me on the show. I grew up in a pretty normal family, in my view, in a middle class community in suburban Detroit. My dad, as you pointed out, my parents are both Indian immigrants. They came here with educational scholarships but no actual resources. And as you noted, my grandfather famously emptied his, well, famously in our family, I guess, emptied his rupe based retirement account to buy a one-way ticket for my dad to come here that had so
Dr. Mark Hyman: Much about what was his nest egg was basically the price of a plane ticket.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: But they just thought if you could get to America and you were smart and hardworking and you played by the rules, your family would be great. That was their unyielding belief.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: For our family, it largely turned out that way. And my dad worked at Ford for 30 plus years and everyone in my community grown up was somehow connected to the auto industry. It was Detroit in the seventies and eighties and one day, it must’ve been a junior, a senior, I think I was a senior in high school, Nelson Mandela was released from prison as you point out, and came to Detroit of all places largely to say thank you. And he walked on the floor of the River Rouge Auto Plant,
Dr. Mark Hyman: A
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Place where Henry Ford kind of invented the assembly line and vertical integration in American manufacturing.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: He told a group of UAW auto workers, thank you for your support. And then he went to Tiger Stadium and this huge event, it was all Motown, it was Stevie Wonder was open for him. And then he gave the speech and he closed all his speeches in Detroit with this extraordinary phrase where he would say to the people of Detroit, from the people of South Africa, I want to tell you that we respect you, we admire you, but above all we love you. And I just thought, amazing. Someone in a jail cell for decades comes out with such warmth and openness and optimism and love. And I sat there, I get goosebumps now. I sat, I was just watching on TV thinking I want to do something with my life that helps other people. But honestly, I didn’t have any clue how I grew up in an Indian American family. I was either going to be an engineer or a doctor. Kind of took my shot at both. And I just didn’t know, how do you become, if you’re not going to be Nelson Mandela, which none of us are, how do you have a path that allows you to imagine changing the world at scale?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And it wasn’t until a few years after all of that that I started to see how that could be the case. And I wrote the book, big Bet So that other people who have that yearning and desire to make a difference but might not exactly know the path or the way to do so can feel confident that there’s an opportunity out there for you.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Yeah, it’s a powerful story. I think, I dunno if you remember this, but I actually first talked to you when I was in Haiti right after the earthquake, and I went down there on the first plane. It was actually a friend of Hillary Clinton’s that had become a patient and he had a jet, and he’s like, let’s go to Haiti. And I’m like, okay. And we put together a crew of two ICU docs, a nurse anesthetist, two orthopedic surgeons. We literally filled his Gulf stream up from floor to ceiling with medical supplies. I ran around the hospitals begging and I got there and it was just literally a disaster. I think unimaginable, I think two 300,000 people dead, two 300,000 people injured. The hospital in Porter Prince was through the epicenter and people were just abandoned in there. I mean, the patients were abandoned. There was medical director and the nursing director and everybody else was gone. We called Hillary to ask for help and then she put me in touch with you and we kind of coordinated on some things. But yeah, you probably don’t remember me back then, but you probably were dealing this so much, but you basically were appointed by Obama and six days or something after you got the job as the head of USID, you basically had to deal with this Haiti crisis. And what was that like for you?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, and
Dr. Mark Hyman: They’re like, by the way, I love the story where you walk into the Oval Office and Biden’s saying to Obama, I dunno about this kid. He’s 36 years old. Is he up to the job? What are you thinking, Barack?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: It was amazing. The day, the day, the earthquake, I was about a week into my
Dr. Mark Hyman: Job
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And it was the first time I visited the USAID operations center. And I went up there and then they’re like, you got to get back to your office. The president’s going to call you. So I get back to my office, I had just started. I didn’t have any of my appointees in place and the Senate was sitting on a bunch of confirmations. So it was just me. You were the USA id, I was the Obama administration in usa. So I had my Blackberry and I was like holding it near the window hoping I got enough bars so that when I got a call from the White House, I didn’t kind of screw that up. And they call and they’re like, president would like to speak to you. I was like, great. And of course he comes through and he is like, Raj, this is the largest humanitarian catastrophe we’ve ever seen.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: It’s less than two hours from our shores. As you noted, hundreds of thousands of people are going to perish. We have to do everything we can to show America’s power can be used for our moral purpose. And he was so clear about what he wanted. And it was funny. I actually had a notepad and I thought, I didn’t know it was my first phone call from the president as your boss calling. So I had a notepad out. You get a little intimidating. Exactly. I was going to take notes because I thought he’d be like, now you do this, this, this, and this. He was going to
Dr. Mark Hyman: Give you a
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Roadmap. And I said, absolutely, sir. And he said, make us proud here. My roadmap and the phone line goes dead. So I look at my black bear and I was like, did I just drop the president, president? Thankfully I didn’t because we had CNN in the office. And he went straight to the press room at the White House and got out behind the podium and he says to the American public, he’s like, I just spoke to administrator Rod Sche putting him in charge of a whole of government response. And I’ve directed this. And it was like everything. It was like, I’ve directed the Coast Guard, I’ve directed US military to be at his disposal. All the things that,
Dr. Mark Hyman: Those are your bullet points, you’re
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Waiting. Those were my bullet points. They just transmitted on television. And I thought, okay, this is my roadmap. And then the next morning we were in the Oval Office to brief the president, and that’s when I got there a little early and he and the vice president were having a chat about it. And I will say Vice President Biden. And now President Biden, of course has been an incredible mentor and supporter of mine, and I’m very grateful for his leadership too. But that’s when they were having that conversation when I walked in. So yeah, I try to write in the book about both the challenges of doing this work and also kind of how it feels to be involved in some of these settings, because as you’ve had this experience many times, it’s also you’re not always super certain of yourself in every moment. We just learn and do the best we can along the way.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Yeah, it’s true. And I think this moment is particularly challenging. It’s sort of the best of times, worst of times, moment in history. I mean, I guess every time is challenging throughout history, but it feels like we’re facing more existential crisis like climate change, massive rates of chronic disease, massive rates of hunger at the same time, huge inequities across the globe economically. And the list goes and on, and it’s kind of enough to make you want to just binge on Netflix and forget about it. All right.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, it is, but at the same time, and this is really why I wrote the book, is I feel super optimistic about our future. And I feel like I’ve been exposed to people who have been able to do some extraordinary things in immunizing children around the world and saving tens of millions of lives or coming together across bipartisan divides and holding hands and helping a hundred million people be protected from hunger and deep malnutrition, or even now some of the work we get to imagine and do together to build a consensus around using food as medicine to deal with the overwhelming challenge of chronic illness in this country that by the way, as made America, the country that experienced the highest excess mortality from
Dr. Mark Hyman: Covid.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And it’s because of the way we eat. It’s because of the way we live, and it’s because of the preconditions we carry around and accept as normal. And all of these things are changeable. So the book is really about finding those fresh, innovative solutions that can be the basis of big betts, and then having an aspiration that’s big. If you really believe food is medicine that can address chronic disease, that is an insight that should not just be available to your patients, but it should be baked into public policy insurance companies and how they reimburse the American medical system. And it should benefit all 300 million Americans who might otherwise be vulnerable. And that’s what the book is about.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Big
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Betts that lift up everybody.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Yeah, I mean, one of the big betts we’ve been talking about and working on is just this incredible burden of chronic disease and the problems with our food system from field of fork and six side 10 Americans have a chronic disease, four in 10 more than one, 93% are metabolic unhealthy, 75% are overweight, 42% obese depression and mental illness. There was an article in JAMA came out last week about the role of ultra processed food in mental health and the 50% increase in depression and those who eat more processed food. So these are big problems, and unfortunately a lot of actors aren’t focused on this. They’re looking at blind men in the elephant, let’s tweak this and let’s tweak that. And you’re like, no, let’s step back and let’s analyze a problem differently. You start with the book, ask a simple question. How do you get people excited?
Dr. Mark Hyman: Oh, do you want to vaccinate three kids in Africa? I don’t know, but do you want to eliminate polio from the face of the planet? Okay, let’s talk. And I think you kind of talk about how do we reframe these problems to capture people’s imagination and ask the right questions and then be data-driven around it, be building alliances and partnerships based on this big visions that actually allow things to happen. And so one of the things that excites me most about the Rock Artell Foundation is that in your leadership, you’re actually putting your money, your mouth is you are funding a 250 million initiative to study food is medicine. I’ve been working with the AHA and your team to help move that forward. And Cleveland Clinic, we’re submitting r your RFP. Oh, fantastic. For doing research to do that. But how do you see us tackling this? I think our audience is very interested in this area of health and the chronic disease epidemic and obesity and the problems with our food system.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah. Well, I’m glad you made reference to ask a simple question because I learned that from Bill Gates and I found myself in my twenties sort of after the Gore campaign and after I thought we won, but it turns out we actually didn’t unemployed and not quite sure what to do. And somehow landed in Bill and Melinda’s offices.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Wait, just for people listening, he went on from riding around in jalopy, helping campaign workers get to the different sites to ending up in Bill Gates’s office, helping him head up a new initiative at the Gates Foundation to solve big problems like the problems of avoidable, preventable childhood deaths from vaccine preventable illness.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Exactly. And Bill and Melinda had read an article about rotavirus the disease and rotavirus vaccines. And we were all perplexed by their observation that when the vaccines are available, they’re going to be available in countries where kids don’t actually die of rotavirus. And the 400,000 kids dying in America and Europe and the 400,000 kids dying in India and Africa and parts of Latin America are not going to have access to these vaccines. And that just felt wrong. And so they asked themselves, how could we vaccinate every child on the planet with the full range of vaccines that would prevent child death?
Dr. Mark Hyman: And rotavirus causes diarrhea, and it’s essentially a diarrheal disease, and kids were malnourished tend to die from this, whereas kids who are American and pretty well nourished tend not to.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Exactly. And in medical school, I think most medical students have had
Dr. Mark Hyman: Rotavirus,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Whether you know it or not. So you’re quite acquainted with it. I might have. And so Bill would gather us regularly and just ask the same question. He’d say, what would it take to vaccinate every child on the planet? Let’s start by saying, what does it cost to vaccinate one kid? What are all the elements of that cost? And what was shocking was if you ask that question to experts around the world who dedicated their lives to public health, most people couldn’t answer the question. They said, oh, that’s too complex. That’s too challenging. The aspiration, the wrong way to think about it. It’s like we can answer the question for a community, but not for the planet. But Bill and Melinda were persistent, and ultimately we answered the question and did a lot of work, multiplied the answer by the 104 million children born every year and came up with a rough order of magnitude of how much resourcing we would need to vaccinate every child on the planet.
Dr. Mark Hyman: It was like $84. It
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Was $84 per life year saved in our modeling. And then we went on to invent a innovative financial solution, an immunization bond that we designed with a group of European heads of state and foreign finance ministers like Gordon Brown, the UK Chancellor of the Ex Checker. And that ultimately reshaped the global vaccine industry at scale. And the result over 20 years has been 980 million kids vaccinated and 60 million kids lives saved. So that’s really where I learned
Dr. Mark Hyman: That’s a lot of
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Kids. The difference between asking yourself, what can we do with what we have, which kind of bounds your thinking compared to how would you accomplish this extraordinary unimaginably big goal?
Dr. Mark Hyman: Well, well, problem people have, right? Is that they basically don’t think differently about problems. They carry these old assumptions and beliefs. And Patty, who was your boss at the Gates Foundation, had this whole idea of this white paper. We start with a blank sheet of
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Paper, forget
Dr. Mark Hyman: Everything you knew, toss it away. Let’s reimagine what’s possible, right?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah. So that’s Patty Stonesy for the first CEO of the Gates Foundation today. She’s the CEO of the Washington Post, an extraordinary leader. And I would love to point out also a trustee, the Rockefeller Foundation, and she did. She said, we start with a blank sheet of paper, just ask these basic questions. And so coming back to your point about chronic disease in the United States and food as medicine, you can ask, why are so many people in America subject to chronic disease? Why are our rates of chronic disease so much higher than every other country on the planet? And
Dr. Mark Hyman: We spend twice as much on healthcare,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And we spend way more than twice as much on healthcare. And when you actually start with a blank sheet of paper, the answers are what you have talked about very eloquently in your books and on the podcast, which is, it’s what we eat and it’s how we live. And it’s not actually because our healthcare system, no, it’s not.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Healthcare problem lacks technical
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Skill or technology to address chronic disease. In fact, if you go back even farther and look in the 1970s as part of a grain war with Russia, basically we reshaped American food policy and agricultural policy and went towards a policy that encouraged farmers to just grow,
Dr. Mark Hyman: Go bigger, fence
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Row, fence row, right? And ever since then, you’ve seen American productivity and agriculture go way up and price per calorie go way down and calories consumed go up almost in equivalence with
Dr. Mark Hyman: Pricing,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Go down
Dr. Mark Hyman: An extra 500 calories a day per person. And when you add that up every year, that’s like 50 pounds a weight gain.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Exactly. And it’s extraordinary. And that’s why Americans were so vulnerable to C and Covid related mortality. Thank you for saying that. And morbidity, and it’s a shame and it’s inexcusable. And so when you and other thought leaders constructed a vision around how food itself could, the medicine that avoids that chronic disease pandemic, we were excited to learn from you guys and women and to construct a big partnership with, in this case, the American Heart Association and the White House, the Biden White House, through their Hunger and Nutrition Summit to say, let’s make this a discipline
Dr. Mark Hyman: In the
Dr. Rajiv Shah: United States. Let’s really learn how to make sure people can get access to food in a way that dramatically changes real medical indicators of chronic disease like hemoglobin A one C levels, and then let’s get insurers and public sector insurers like Medicare and Medicaid to pay for it so that we can make fresh and healthy meals available to people who are otherwise either food insecure or vulnerable to chronic illness and chronic disease. And I think if we can do that together, it may take decades, hopefully not, hopefully we can move faster, but if we can bring public sector and private sector,
Dr. Mark Hyman: That’s why I’m working on longevity so I can be around when it
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Happens. We can change the nature of health in this country at scale, and that would be a big bet worthy of really committing ourselves
Dr. Mark Hyman: To, it seems like one of the most important betts. It’s not just here globally. There’s twice as many deaths from chronic disease globally, even in the developing world than there are from infectious disease. It’s the number one killer is food, 11 million deaths a year. I think that’s conservatively from the global burden of disease study and looking at 195 countries. And it’s a solvable problem, just like vaccines could solve preventable childhood deaths. This is not something we need to have new scientific advances in or new discoveries or anything really that sexy, except getting people access to the right food and helping them support those changes they need in their behavior to implement that. And I think it’s almost kind of not thought about as a solvable problem because when I am meeting in Washington, we’re here in Washington DC today at the Rockefeller Foundation headquarters, but I’m also, I’ve been going around and meeting with congressmen and senators and their staffs, and part of the problem is it’s just kind of a lack of understanding about how to think about this problem differently. Einstein said, we can’t solve our current problems with the same thinking that created them. We have to have different thinking. And that’s what you really talk about in Big Betts, which is how do you think differently to get the results? And you’ve had big results sometimes with small efforts. You talk about you and Mitch Landro when you went down to New Orleans after Katrina, and I know Mitch, he’s an amazing guy,
Dr. Mark Hyman: And they had all these confederate statues and he was trying to solve for addressing this as a problem because why we have monuments to people who were really celebrating slavery, and it was very political, very controversial. The workers had to wear bulletproof vests and have masks, and no one could see their faces. It was quite a thing. But you decided to make a bet on Mitch, and it seemed like a small thing, take down a few statues in one town, but it had a huge ripple effect, right? Can you talk about that?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, it did. This episode happened right when I started at the Rockefeller Foundation, and I had visited New Orleans to really look at a lot of the work we did to rebuild different communities in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And Mitch and I were walking through town, and the first thing you realize walking through New Orleans with Mitch Andrew is he knows everybody in town
Dr. Mark Hyman: And their first and last names and their first and last
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Name and their kids and their stories, and what an amazingly well connected community leader and mayor, extraordinary mayor. And he had worked for years to build consensus around the community around taking these statues down. And he felt as he talked to kids, especially young black kids in that city, that there was just no reason to be staring up at a 60 foot statue, Robert E. Lee, who had never visited New Orleans as part of a military campaign. And all those statues were put up in the 1890s and turn of the century as part of an effort to intimidate and terrify the black community. And in fact, one of the statues actually celebrated an attack on the integrated police force of New Orleans, which was an extraordinary act of terrorism, and it was sort of celebrated as one of the statues.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Was that during reconstruction?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah. And so Mitch did all this work when they started to take the statues down, the contractor who was leading that effort had his sports car firebombed in his driveway near his home, and basically pulled out of the exercise for personal safety. And it became a much riskier, much more costly thing. It also became much more political. So the state government was intervening and threatening to prevent them from doing things, so they had to move fast. And Mitch sort of asked me to pay for the cost difference between what they had and what they needed. Now that the cost had gone up to get an out-state contractor, you
Dr. Mark Hyman: Basically had to have mercenaries protecting them. Exactly,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah. And to take this down, and I was just right, fairly new to this Rockefeller job,
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: I was like, well, I don’t think this is how we make decisions. We have program officers who know their subjects for years and years, but I made some calls and realized that it was just worth making a bet on Mitch. He had a vision for what he wanted to do. He had community support, and we had hours to days to act. So I said, yes, we went ahead and provided those resources. He took the statues down. And that led to, and who knew it would’ve led to this, but it led to a movement across the country to ask ourselves the question, should these public monuments often put up to intimidate? Should we have a reconciliation around that? And then that blew up even further during that violent episode in Charlottesville, Virginia and where people lost lives. And it really became a flash point in American political life. So sometimes making Big Betts is about betting on others who have worked tirelessly to create a vision of what’s possible. And I was fortunate to have the opportunity to bet on Mitch and
Dr. Mark Hyman: What
Dr. Rajiv Shah: A great leader to learn from.
Dr. Mark Hyman: What it kind of inspired me about that story is that it reminds me of what me said that never doubt that a small group of highly committed people can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And
Dr. Mark Hyman: You bet on Mitch and his crew down there. And that led to this cascade effect. And so some ways making big betts might not be, I’m going to end world hunger. It might be I’m going to start in my community, but that has a potential effect down the road. And I think we see that happening. And I am sort of inspired by your vision of how we think about things. And for me, I’ve been trying to think about as a doctor in the trenches, seeing in my lifetime the explosion of chronic disease and obesity. I mean, I’m older than you, but when I graduated medical school, there wasn’t a single state that had an obesity rate over 20%. Now most have 35%, and I think 42% is the average in the country.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Wow.
Dr. Mark Hyman: This is just in literally a few years. I still remember when it was not like that.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And I think the costs are escalating, and it seemed like such an overwhelming problem. And I think members of Congress and people even in the administration are not kind of thinking about this as a central problem. It’s affecting so many things we care about. And to me, food is the nexus where it all comes together, right? Chronic illness and its burden on human capital, its effect on social capital because of the effect of this on our children and their academic performance, on our military readiness because kids are unfit to fight, 70% get rejected because of its effect on social injustice and health inequities, its effect on climate and the environment from how we grow our food. And so I began to sort of see that and the economic burden, which is staggering. I mean, think about if we had the extra trillions of dollars that were, we spend unnecessarily on this problem because we’re mopping up the floor while the solar flowing. What else could we do? Could we have universal education for people, or could we have universal healthcare? I mean, what could we do as society, uplevel our
Dr. Rajiv Shah: People, public health.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Public health? And so it’s such a daunting, intersecting set of problems. How do you think about this in such a leadership position? You’re so respected. Everybody knows who you are, listens to you and sees the big things you’ve done, and now you’re focused on this issue, which to me makes dance the jig. Really honestly, when I go home, and not only are you thinking about it, but you’re actually doing things. You created a report on, for example, the true cost of food,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Which
Dr. Mark Hyman: Means we spent $3 for every $1 we spent on food, we spent $3 in collateral damage on health and
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Social, human
Dr. Mark Hyman: Natural capital, all of it, and not putting 250 million to Buddhist medicine. You’re trying to create the periodic table of phytochemicals with Dari, which is 200 million effort. I mean, these are big betts. So how do you see your role in being a cattle? It’s an agent. You were talking earlier when we were chatting about a meeting, you brought together like 20 plus congressmen and senators and Republicans and Democrats in Italy to kind of have a think tank about how to solve this. And you were sort of inspired by what you’re hearing. So what on the ground, when you’re in the trenches, how are you seeing us making the bet on this and what are the things we need to think about?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, I write in the book about a methodology for making big betts that I think is very applicable here. It starts with saying, we’re not going to let this be a couple of great pilot projects that excite us, but don’t go anywhere. We’re going to actually set a big goal like eliminating 50 or 80 or a hundred percent of chronic disease in the United States as an example.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Amen.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And then the question is, do we really know enough about the innovations and solutions to get us there? And I think this is where the community of scientists that you’ve helped lead and build over time have a ton of data that shows that in a targeted efficient way, improving dietary intake can reduce medical endpoints of chronic disease in certain populations, certain settings, and where we’re investing the 250 million with a set of partners to expand that dataset. So the solutions are clear, the next step is really saying, do we have the right partners around the table to take this to scale? And this is the part I’m most excited about because in our emerging partnership, we have Kaiser Permanente, we have a group of insurance companies that are saying, look, we’re not sure how, but if you guys generate the right data, we should start considering reimbursing for this. If you think about it, it’s somewhat insane to be paying for wago V and Ozempic and not just healthy food. I’m not against those.
Dr. Mark Hyman: No, no. They can be helpful
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Medical dimensions. They can be extremely helpful. But at scale, do we want to have dietary practices that make us unhealthy and then take a thousand dollars a month medical intervention, or do we want to just
Dr. Mark Hyman: 24 or 2,700 a month?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah, exactly. Or is it better and more scalable to just use food as medicine in a targeted and effective way? And so getting those partners public private is a big theme through the book. And I think having public sector insurers like Medicaid and Medicare have a clear pathway to reimbursement is mission critical to making this work at scale. And so we’ll keep sitting with, as you and I have with Republican and democratic senators, right at those dinners, and they come and people, why are they doing it? They’re not doing it because they read a report somewhere. Frankly, they show up at these things because somebody had a heart attack and they learned about how their diet can help prevent the next one. And then they want their brother or their sister or their father to benefit from that knowledge. And I have a whole chapter in the book called Make It Personal about basically crossing the political divide. Nothing is more personal than a person’s personal health
Dr. Mark Hyman: Story.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And I think we can build extraordinary relationships and consensus across the aisle in this country to do something in, yeah,
Dr. Mark Hyman: Disease isn’t
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Red because disease is not red or blue. And you and I have been sitting there and we’re like, oh my gosh, these folks are having the same experience, whether they are a liberal mayor of a big American city or a conservative Republican senator from another farm state. And then it really is about measuring results and communicating what is known and what we’re doing at scale. So I find that basic methodology, focus on fresh, innovative solutions, identify the partners you need to go to scale and do anything it takes to build kind of consensus and collaboration and then keep measuring results
Dr. Mark Hyman: Is
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Just mission
Dr. Mark Hyman: Critical.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And I think a huge part of this effort will have to change American policy on the agriculture side and on the health reimbursement side, I look forward to a day when kids going to med school learn something about nutrition. My daughter’s in med school now, personally, I probably wasn’t the world’s best medical student, but I did not learn. Yeah,
Dr. Mark Hyman: You were busy getting economics
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Degree. I didn’t learn much. I was a little distracted, but even if I wasn’t so distracted, I wouldn’t have been taught a whole lot about food as medicine and about the primacy of nutrition and
Dr. Mark Hyman: Disease. Definitely
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Not American chronic disease.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Definitely not. Yeah, no, this is important. I think about the big problems you solved and helped solve vaccinations to save children, medical deaths, trying to bring an end to hunger in places that have really rampant hunger, bring energy, security and energy to places where they don’t have electricity. You tried this in Congo with the dam. It was not exactly worked out you wanted, but you’ve done things that nobody really is against. Nobody’s like, oh, we should not vaccinate kids to prevent disease, or we should not end hunger, or we should not give people electricity. There’s nobody really on the other side going, no, in this instance, there’s a whole industry. I mean, this is the biggest industry on the planet. It’s $16 trillion, employs more people than any other industry and is responsible for more deaths than any other thing, including war, smoking and everything else together. So how do you navigate that? You’re creating alliances, partnerships, because I’ve spoken to CEOs of many big food companies and they’re like, look, we got to get it, but we can’t really change because if we make our products healthier, people won’t eat it, or our competitors will still make the same stuff and they’ll go over to them.
Dr. Mark Hyman: We have kind of a problem where there’s a fair bit of opposition. We were even talking about Snap for example, which is over a hundred billion program that provides food security, not nutrition security, but food security, getting enough calories to people, not as nutrients to people who can’t afford to eat well or eat enough. And we’re just trying to get a bill passed that just provides reporting on what SNAP dollars are used for. So American taxpayers should have a right to know
Dr. Rajiv Shah: What
Dr. Mark Hyman: Is this money being used for? What are they buying? There’s such resistance in Congress and from the food industry, it’s acting through Congress to even just get reporting, not like, let’s not take any action. Let’s not change anything. Let’s just kind of get the facts, get the data. So how do we start to deal with that level of challenge?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, you’re right to point out that that’s a huge challenge. I mean, I started my public service career in the Obama administration in the Department of Agriculture,
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Actually before Michelle Obama’s campaign to improve the quality of school feeding a lot of the basic procurement structures in American school lunch programs rely on taking, I would say old, because I think outdated is technically not the right term, but over salted old food product and agricultural production excesses and dumping them into the school feeding program at scale. And it’s because a lot of American nutrition programs come from a history of dealing with commodity surplus. In fact, all of American food aid around the world, American’s most generous country, comes from a 1950s era Bill called the Surplus Commodities Act,
Dr. Mark Hyman: Right?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: So feeding programs were not about health as much. They’re about calories as they were about calories, and they were about absorbing access. And we just have to be cognizant of that and know what we’re up against. And while it’s true that a lot of these other efforts may not have had as organized and opposition, it is shocking to me how often people just simply don’t believe something is possible. And that’s the first step. Failure
Dr. Mark Hyman: Of imagination.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Failure of imagination. So I think you are at a critical voice to get more Americans to believe, and decision makers, you’re
Dr. Mark Hyman: Give me too much credit rush.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, no, but to believe that food as medicine can make a huge
Dr. Mark Hyman: Dent
Dr. Rajiv Shah: In the chronic illness that exposed America to so much covid mortality, period. And
Dr. Mark Hyman: By the way, we’re 4% of the world’s population, but 16% of the deaths and cases cases 16.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: 16, yeah.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Cases and deaths. So fourfold more than we should been incredible. And we should have been fourfold less because of our healthcare
Dr. Rajiv Shah: System. And by the way, we were going into covid in a global ranking that we helped create
Dr. Mark Hyman: Called
Dr. Rajiv Shah: The Global Health Security Index. We were the number one country in terms of preparedness to handle a pandemic, any generic pandemic. And it turned out to be totally inaccurate for this reason.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Well, it was inaccurate, all so sick and pre inflamed, and the Covid virus just activated
Dr. Rajiv Shah: That, just activated that
Dr. Mark Hyman: Gasoline on a fire.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Exactly. But to go to your, I mean, I just think you got to use both the public and private sector levers of change together. And I’ve been struck by when we take on this work, a lot of times people think of it as, oh, this is a charitable exercise and therefore it’s just going to be doing a little bit of good in some places. And doing good enough is really not going to achieve the vision you and I share of transforming how America handles its chronic disease pandemic. And at the same time, I’m struck in the public sector how often people just say, well, that’s too hard. And you
Dr. Mark Hyman: Call that the aspiration
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Track. Yeah, it’s too complex. It’s just too hard. It’s too complex. It’s not going to work. Or we can’t build the right coalition. And what I found is if you really put effort into it, you can actually build the right coalition to make progress. I mean, I walked on farms with Senator Jim Inha in Ethiopia talking about climate change, but in words that were more aligned with what was in his head and heart. And he became an extraordinary champion
Dr. Mark Hyman: For
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Building climate resilient crops across Africa and the rest of the world. And he was someone who held up a snowball on the Senate floor to contest climate change, but in his heart, like a deeply thoughtful, caring person who, on the issue of hunger, would do everything anyone could to help protect especially African communities that were starving. And that’s where you just got to go that extra mile and understand how to get people to act on what’s in their heart.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I’m wondering, I’m just thinking out loud here, but with the gravitas of the Rock RFA Foundation with its capacity for convening, have you ever thought about bringing all the people who are at the top of the food industry, all policymakers together in a secret meeting where people, there was no reporters, there was no transcripts, and people could just roll up their sleeves and go, okay, we’re facing a tsunami here. How are we going to deal with this? You obviously don’t want to lose your profit margins and your shareholders would be upset for sure, but how do we work together to solve this? Have you thought of that?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, we should do it. We’ve done it in smaller scale than what you just described. And we are holding hands with some pretty significant, both food companies and retail enterprises like Kroger for example,
Dr. Mark Hyman: Right?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: That’s in trying to push this all forward, but that is the path we need to go on. And a big bet that it was not one of the ones I helped originate, but really George w Bush’s big bet, and Tony Fauci around fighting hiv aids around the world, was grounded in getting the pharmaceutical industry over time to make lower cost ARVs available broadly. And that happened, and that changed everything, but it took years and years and years of engagement and partnership
Dr. Mark Hyman: Development. That’s pepfar, right?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And that’s pepfar, the president’s emergency program for AIDS relief that saved tens of millions of lives. And I’ve literally visited communities where you’d drive down the road in rural western Kenya, and then the number one product being sold were coffins because the AIDS pandemic was so dramatically affecting able-bodied people in those communities. And then 10 years later, it’s a manageable disease because of American leadership. But it’s not just American leadership, it’s public, private, and it’s getting industry to appreciate that it can be part of the solution in a way that doesn’t destroy its bottom line. And I think that’s what we’re going to have to do on with the food industry, on the health of the American population, and frankly, the global population because the global food industry is right now actively copying the model of what happened in America over the last 50 years. That’s frightening. And it will effectively poison much of the world if we go down that same exact path.
Dr. Mark Hyman: No, I just got back from India and I was in some small town and I went to the local mall area. It was just like every fast food junk in the world that was there. And I’m like, wow. I remember years ago I was, Hillary Clinton was senator, we were working on healthcare reform together and trying to lifestyle change. And she brought me around to meet different people and Senator Harkin, and we were just chatting. She’s like, I went to India and met with my counterpart. I’m like, we want to help. What can we do to help with your infectious disease and some of the health challenges you’re having? It’s like, what do you mean we have problem with diabetes? This is the problem here in India, and it’s just, we basically created the worst diet in the planet and are exporting it everywhere.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: We have to understand why, which you of course do, but it’s low cost, super convenient, tons of added sugar, fat, salt, make it largely addictive. And then you pour billions of dollars of super sexy marketing around the whole thing, and it becomes fun as well. And so as you point out, what we’re trying to change is not just one or two communities or one or two insurance programs, but actually the culture of food and the industry and the food industry at scale. And that’s a big bet worth making, and it’ll take a while to happen, but we’re going to pursue it together. It is.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And some of those drug solutions make me laugh. Last night someone was talking about a drug that they were on called contrave. I dunno if you know this drug,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: I don’t what
Dr. Mark Hyman: Is it? But it’s basically Naltrexone or Narcan and Bupropion, which is an anxiety drug. So it’s basically like what you give to people who are having a heroin overdose to block them from the opium or the opioid basically from killing them. And from you give that to someone who’s overweight, it blocks the effect of sugar to hit that opioid receptor in the brain, which is what it’s doing. And that almost is a implicit acknowledgement that these are addictive foods.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, but that’s also the path to answering your question, which is how do we scale this up if more? I was with a group of CEOs of large scale companies that are largely self-insured, and one of the topics that came up was paying for the semi glide medicines pic. As they start to deal with those costs in the structure of their businesses, the next logical question is going to be, is there a better way to achieve this outcome? And that’s where we want to be prepared with our data and our partnerships and our results so we can help large insurers kind of pivot to say, okay, if you’re going to pay for that, you should also cover this and cover this intervention in a way that affects your entire patient population or your employee pool.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I think it’s such a key point because what you’re talking about is finding people who have aligned interests, who, and often that’s line financial interests.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: So
Dr. Mark Hyman: Self-insured large corporations like the Fortune 100, 500 companies, they’re paying a lot. I mean, in general, a motor spends more on healthcare than they do on steel. Starbucks spends more on healthcare than they do on coffee beans. That’s untenable. And it’s making us less competitive globally, and it’s also just unsustainable as costs escalate. And I think those are really powerful allies. They’re actually getting insured. It’s complicated way it works, but they’re not actually providing healthcare, but they contract with insurance companies to actually cover that. But the benefits,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: But they pay for it.
Dr. Mark Hyman: They pay for it.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah, exactly.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And so they can actually influence what’s covered or what’s not covered. And so there was a friend of mine who started a company to address diabetes using very low carbohydrate or even a ketogenic diets, and it was very, very effective. And they sold it to UnitedHealthcare and they were like, well, how come the ADA isn’t saying this? And they were like, well, maybe, I don’t know. But their program isn’t working, and they also get a lot of their funding from pharma and from the food industry. So there’s all these conflicted relationships.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: What I love about that story is I write in the book in a number of examples about building alliances and finding the right partners and often find the right partners means finding the right corporate partners. Our efforts to fight energy insecurity and energy poverty, rely on collaborations with big energy companies, not oil and gas to expand solar and distributed solar, but it’s still working with big companies. And I have found, and this I think is true in food as medicine, we will find big companies that have an economic interest in getting this right. There’s always someone on the other side of the trade. And building those alliances and partnerships and the skills to do so is as much of what the book is about as anything else. And I hope when it’s something true at Rockefeller, when we look for partners to join us, or even when we look to hire and grow our teams, we want people who are good at building alliances because that’s what it’s going to take to solve some of these hairy challenges.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And kind of reminds me of this picture I saw of this Chinese man, like Tai Chi kind of guy walking around the outside of a wicker basket without falling over and keeping it perfectly in balance. And the quote, I’m going to muck it up, but it was something like those who say it can’t be done should not be try to tell people who are doing it, that it can’t be done. And I think that’s what’s so inspiring about you is you’re like, you’re tackling problems where people say, this can’t be fixed. It’s too big, it’s too complicated, it’s too difficult. And yet you’re diving right in. And I think there’s a lesson for all of us in that, which is not to turn away from what’s hard, but to turn toward it and to actually think about what in our world we can impact and what we can do. Because all of us can make a difference. All of us can, whether it’s a small level in our own kitchens, these things matter, and they actually ripple and they affect things. And I think it’s kind of like the dominoes when you’re working on these big problems and you get a couple of key alliances and partners and you show that it can be done and the people who say it can’t be done go, oh, well, actually it can be done.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, I’ll tell you, that’s why I wrote the book.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: I hope people, especially young people, but really anybody reads it and says, Hey, I can be part of the solution and I can apply this mindset in this way of thinking to the issues I care about in my community or on my planet. And the more people we can attract to the mission, the more successful we are with that. And you’ve probably found this too, one of the most gratifying things about doing this work. You don’t at the end of the day become a billionaire in the way that you opened, but it does change you as much or maybe more than you’ll change the communities you’re in. You just walk around with more optimism and less cynicism. And we need that because there’s so much cynicism out there already. If I’m want to be cynical, I’ll just pick up the paper and read about everybody fighting with each other and not much happening. This is a path to be more optimistic about what we can achieve together.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Well, Raj, it is quite amazing to hear you talk about this because you haven’t been sitting in your office at the Gates Foundation or the U-S-A-I-D office or even at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York and just kind of behind a computer screen dictating what’s going on. You’ve been in the places in the world where there’s unimaginable suffering, where there’s hunger and poverty and lack. I mean, you share a story about being in the BK Hills in India where you’re scraping people with, see if they have leprosy, and living in crappy little Hutt with mosquitoes biting you. You’ve seen it upfront and you’ve still got this big smile on your face, and you’re still have a positive view of the world, and you’re not disheartened. And I think it sounds really paradoxical, but when you are in that process of thinking about others, when you’re in that process of serving a greater good and it takes you out of your own little life and ego and makes you understand something different about the world, and also provides weirdly a level of satisfaction, happiness and gratification, that it seems paradoxical. When I was in Haiti, it was, I mean, the 82nd Airborne was there,
Dr. Mark Hyman: The hospital was a nightmare. I don’t the story, but we were there and somebody said, there’s jobs. So the whole campus of the hospital got mobbed and we couldn’t do our work, and it was a nightmare. And slowly the other agency started coming in, but I was called Hillary. I’m like, Hey, we need the military in here. So she sent the 82nd Airborne, and we hadn’t eaten in three days. So I’m like, can I have one of those res, because I’m sorry. And it was like four.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: You don’t want one of those. It was
Dr. Mark Hyman: 475 ingredients. It was chicken and dumplings. And while I was heating up, I looked for the chicken on the label. It said, no chicken. It was like a chicken like substance. Anyway, so the story is like that. Basically they said they had never seen a worst disaster in their life, even in Afghanistan, Iraq. And I remember I was working 20 hours a day and it was horrible. It was so much grief, but also I felt really high and happy. And it was weird. I had this weird sense of I wasn’t thinking about myself, I wasn’t thinking about problems. I was just in the trenches serving, right?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, I know exactly how you feel, and I’ll tell you, I’m so proud of the folks who worked with USAID at the time. There was a huge snowstorm here in DC that winter, and people said, you know what? I
Dr. Mark Hyman: Was sweating bullets in hate. I don’t
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Remember that. Well, they said, I’m not going to go home. I’m going to sleep across the street in a hotel
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Just keep working because this crisis demands it. And I remember years later, I had a chance to take, my son was a little kid then through to visit Paul Farmer’s Hospital.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Paul walked us through the neonatal infant care unit and introduced us to kids. He had kept alive through that extraordinary facility. And we were pointing out that coming out of the world’s greatest humanitarian tragedy, there was a lot of good and a lot of impact and a lot of service. And in fact, six months after the earthquake, the level of diarrhea, illness in Port-au-Prince was lower than it was the day before the year, the level of childhood malnutrition had collapsed by 50% and more kids were getting fed and were improving their nutritional outcomes after that six month window. And it was in part because the world had mounted a passionate and effective humanitarian response in the light of an absolute tragedy and disaster. And people don’t, the news cameras are all there the first couple of weeks.
Dr. Mark Hyman: No
Dr. Rajiv Shah: One goes back six months later and says, Hey, this is an orphanage where kids used to be malnourished and now they’re not. Because Care International is running this innovative feeding program that is both supporting local farmers and feeding these kids. Those stories rarely get told, but when you do this work, you get to be a part of those stories, and it does make you hopeful and content and excited about what’s possible.
Dr. Mark Hyman: That’s true. Yeah. And part of, I think Paul Farmer’s example, he was also a friend. I got to meet him in the middle of all that, and he made big Betts. He was a young medical student like you with big ideals, and decided to go against the entire global public health establishment that said, we can’t deal with Tbna in Haiti because it’s too complicated. It’s too difficult. The drugs had to be taken on schedule. They don’t have watches, they don’t have clean water. And he was like, no, this is a solvable problem. And he started asking simple questions. He did the white sheet of paper and he’s like, it’s really about people helping people. And he created this whole model of accompaniment. How do we accompany ourselves and our neighbors to health? And I think that’s really partly what I think is a solution to our crisis in America.
Dr. Mark Hyman: I read a number of books after that and was so inspired. And one of the books, he’s like, we need to deal with this chronic disease in a similar way. We need a million community health workers in America. And that doesn’t sound sexy, it doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s actually so powerful and we think we have to sort of create big scale change. But maybe it’s a lot of little things that make a difference. And I think I’ve seen this happen. I went to, part of this movie Fed Up was on childhood obesity, and they went down to South Carolina in easily one of the worst food deserts in America. And it was a family of five living in a trailer, food stamps and disability. The father’s 42 on dialysis from diabetes already the mother’s a hundred pounds overweight. The son’s a hundred plus pounds, overweight, almost diabetic at 16. And all I did was rather than give him a on what to do, I said, let’s go shopping and get some simple food. Let’s cook a simple meal together from simple ingredients. They never cooked anything in their life.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And long story short, basically I laughed and I gave ’em a guide on how to eat well for less and how to do this. They lost 200 pounds of family. The father lost 45, got a new kidney, the son lost 50, went to work at Bojangles, gained it back, but then he reached out to me and we worked together. He lost 132 pounds. Was first guy in his family to go to college, asked me for a letter of recommendation from medical school and now he’s a doctor. And I was like, wow. I was like, wow, maybe this problem is not like some new technology or some new drug, it’s just people helping people, neighbors helping neighbors. It’s like just simple skills. And it doesn’t sound sexy or exciting, but maybe that’s part of our solution, food and community. And when you look at places where they have health and longevity, that’s what they got. I wrote a book Young Forever and I went to the Blue Zones and that’s what they got. Good food and lots of community and support. So that’s kind of, I think, how we think differently about these problems.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Absolutely. And by the way, the basic point that people want to help themselves, that’s as true in that story here in the United States as it is when you go to, I mean, we went the heat of the famine in 2011 into Somalia in communities that were blockaded by Al-Shabaab terrorists, and overwhelmed by a massive drought. And mothers want to help feed their kids
Dr. Mark Hyman: Period. And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: We’ll do extraordinary things to access food, support their families, and create a better life for their children. And they’ll do all the work and they often have most of the knowledge needed to get there and just need a little bit of nudging, supporting, standing with in order to help unlock that ability to be better. And that’s a great story that way.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Yeah, I mean, honestly, Raj, knowing you and knowing your work, and you probably don’t remember this, but during that Haiti time, I came to Washington, and it’s a long story. I won’t go into it, but basically I met a long lost cousin who was actually in charge of the Red Cross International Relief, and I didn’t know it. Wow. Even he was like my grandmother’s great nephew or something, and I never even met him. And it turned out he ended up giving 10 million to help the hospital and fund the staff and so forth. But I came down on that trip and I was in a restaurant and I turned around and you were sitting there and I was like, Hey, Raj, you probably don’t remember.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, can I tell you one of the things about, since we’ve talked about that Haiti episode, more American families gave in some way, whatever. Sometimes it was through text thing we had set up, and sometimes it was to the Red Cross, and sometimes it was in your case where you actually get on a plane and go do more American families gave to the Haiti earthquake relief than watch the Super Bowl that year. Unbelievable, unbelievable. It just made me, it was a reminder that people want to be on the side, right.
Dr. Mark Hyman: If
Dr. Rajiv Shah: You give them a chance. And a lot of what this book is about is learning how to give people a chance.
Dr. Mark Hyman: So this is exactly what your life’s about, right, is giving people a chance to have a better life. It’s just this beautiful humanitarian vision. As now president of the Rocker Health Foundation, what are your next big bets? We talked about food as medicine, which is important about rethinking agriculture and regenerative agriculture addressing chronic disease. What’s on your hit list actually to solve?
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Well, we have an extraordinarily exciting list of big betts. The biggest one is we just announced last week is a billion dollar commitment to accelerate the climate transition and fight climate change around the world. It just turns out that we are, as a globe, we are off path to achieve a sustainable future. We’re going to blow past the Paris targets. We’re on our way to two and a half to three degrees warming, and we’re blowing past every ecological tipping point that the scientists evaluate and predict. So the consequences of even a little bit of warming are worse than we thought. The most vulnerable 2 billion people on earth are the ones that are going to suffer the most. Hunger will double displaced populations on coastal cities will lead to 200 million climate migrants. Fisheries
Dr. Mark Hyman: Will be destroy. You said a billion I think when I looked, is
Dr. Rajiv Shah: That right? Yeah. Fisheries will be destroyed. And we believe that the technology exists or can exist to help those communities both be part of the solution and protect themselves against those catastrophic outcomes. So as part of that, we’re helping to reach a billion people with renewable electrification.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Yeah, I told you want to be a billionaire. Yeah. Yeah, that’s,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And I’m excited because it’s happening because we’re able to make it happen and we’re able to bring partners to the table. Another big betts around school feeding. I think a lot of times school feeding is where kids develop habits around their diet and their understanding of nutrition. It’s also, especially in developing countries, it’s a way to provide some feeding and some food to families take extra food if it’s part of the allotment back to their families. And I was at a school feeding site in Kenya where thanks to our collaboration with the government in Kenya and introducing school feeding, school attendance went up 150%. And girls in particular were going to school. So we think there are about 720 million kids around the world that are school feeding eligible. About 460 million or so get some form of intervention, but most of it is very low quality diet. We think we can dramatically improve the dietary quality they’re reaching and target another a hundred million kids relatively quickly. So a group of heads of state are heading to Paris, I think in about three weeks time. And we hope to build a global school feeding effort that brings public and private partners together to change the nutrition path for kids in 80 plus countries around
Dr. Mark Hyman: World. And it’s so important because malnourished kids die from simple
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Infections and malnourished kids are the most vulnerable
Dr. Mark Hyman: That actually would
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Not kill western kids. Exactly. Yeah. And in practice, it’s a way to kind of jumpstart local agricultural economies and get local agriculture, both focus on nutrition outcomes and have a market farm to
Dr. Mark Hyman: School,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Farm
Dr. Mark Hyman: To
Dr. Rajiv Shah: School, which is part of our story here in the us but could be a bigger part globally. So that’s another big bet we’re excited about. And food is medicine. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about it, but we’re going to create together over the next few years the database that we will show with definitive rigor and quality, that food interventions can directly reduce the burden of chronic disease and the cost related to that burden.
Dr. Mark Hyman: And
Dr. Rajiv Shah: That no doubt will, I think, change the economic incentives and allow us to build the alliances. You mentioned earlier that could actually change health outcomes for 40, 50% of the American population.
Dr. Mark Hyman: That’s quite a list,
Dr. Rajiv Shah: And that’s an amazing, it’s
Dr. Mark Hyman: Quite
Dr. Rajiv Shah: A list. It’s fun to get to come in every day, work on these things, work with leaders and visionaries like you and our team is so exciting and so pumped up to make a difference on
Dr. Mark Hyman: These issues. That’s really, really exciting. Raj. I think those seem big problems, but I think what’s exciting is that they actually have solutions. And I think the food is medicine thing is both an opportunity and it is also fraught a little bit with some danger. And I’m just sure my thoughts if I can.
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Yeah,
Dr. Mark Hyman: Please. It’s podcast with you. But I’m just so
Dr. Rajiv Shah: Passionate. I’m learning.
Dr. Mark Hyman: But I think it’s kind of a failure of imagination in the healthcare system and also in policymakers. They don’t understand the power of food to transform biology and how fast it can work, particularly around chronic illness, whether it’s diabetes or heart disease or other issues. And I think if I was going to do a study looking at whether, let’s say a statin prevented a heart disease, if I used a milligram of a statin, I would find it didn’t work. If I used a milligram of aspirin to treat a headache, I’d find it didn’t work. Or if I used an antibiotic to treat depression, it wouldn’t work. So you have to have the right drug at the right dose for the right person at the right time. And food is, pharmacology is not really well understood by traditional medicine. It’s not just like, oh, eat better. It’s very specific. And so I think that’s where I’ve spent the last 30 years focusing is how do we take care of my own patients in my clinic doing this and have had profound insights by just, and honestly been shocked as a doctor. Not anything I learned in medical school, right? Oh, you can’t reverse diabetes. Well, yeah, you can.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Or you can’t reverse heart failure. Well, yeah, you can. And I have so many patients with that, and it’s stuff that if you say to a regular doctor, they’re like, eh, I don’t know. That’s not true. It doesn’t really work. Or policymakers, they don’t get, and I fight this all the time when I’m talking to policymaker, oh, prevention. I’m like, no, no, no, not prevention. It’s is treatment. This is treatment. This is treatment. And I think that conversation needs to shift. So I think we got a lot of work out of us, but it’s just, it’s such a joy to know you and to hear your story and to read your book, which was so inspiring. Honestly, I got chills and it was like all this. So I really encourage everybody to get a copy of Big Betts, how large Scale Change really happens because this guy knows and he has done it and he’s still at it.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Raj, thank you for being the man you are, for leading in the way you do and for being such a kind and gentle human being. I think the world has a lot to learn from you, and I certainly have. So I’m so excited for what’s ahead for us working together with Food Fix and transforming our healthcare system and our food system. And for those of you listening, love this podcast, share it with everybody because I think everybody’s hear this message and get inspired. There’s so much bad news in the world. This is a good news story. Subscribe every, get your podcast and leave a comment, how have you made changes in your own community and life? And we’d love to hear from you and we’ll see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Closing: Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner. If you’re looking for a functional medicine practitioner, you can visit ifm.org and search their find a practitioner database. It’s important that you have someone in your corner who’s trained, who’s a licensed healthcare practitioner, and can help you make changes, especially when it comes to your health.