Esther Dyson always brings a unique and nuanced perspective to issues. Speaking at the Health 2.0 Goes to DC conference, Esther proposed that the health ecosystem consists of three markets: Health Care 1.0, Bad Health, and Health Care 2.0. I'm glad she emphasized some of the challenges faced by the nascent Health 2.0 market. But lumping drug abuse, processed foods, and lack of exercise together and calling it the "Market for Bad Health" is a bad idea.
Whether she intended it or not, Esther implies that to varying extents the tobacco, processed foods, automobile, alcoholic beverage, and television industries all make at least some of their money by damaging people's health. I don't think that's true. For example, some processed foods contain added vitamins; others remove natural ingredients that are harmful to people with specific allergies or medical conditions. There is also a legitimate place for foods offering benefits such as convenience or long shelf life.
You could certainly argue that the tobacco industry makes money by damaging people's health--though some smokers live long lives. But there is nothing inherently wrong with food processing (or automobiles and even alcoholic beverages). Some processed foods contain potentially harmful ingredients, just as some natural foods may be improperly handled or stored. For most people, it's probably fine to eat foods containing additives or preservatives once or twice a week. Can the same be said about eating contaminated natural foods?
But what worries me most is that calling a range of products and services the "Market for Bad Health" is an invitation for excessive government intervention and perhaps even social regimentation. We have to accept that some people will choose unhealthy lifestyles regardless of how many educational programs and regulations are created. Plus, many government programs and regulations have unintended consequences. Some things are harmful in ways that are obvious, but beneficial in ways that are not well recognized.
Because if we want to empower individuals to manage their own health and health care--and that to me is the primary virtue of Health Care 2.0--we need to let them make real choices.