Prevention only gets you so far

Prevention only gets you so far

You might not know the name J.I. Rodale, but I guarantee you know some of his work – such as the founder of Prevention magazine and coining the term ‘organic’ for farming/produce grown without artificial additives. What you might not know is how it all ended and what we can learn from his life.


Rodale was an early advocate of sustainable agriculture and organic farming in the United States. He popularized the term “organic” as a term for growing food without pesticides. Inspired by his encounters with other health-minded experts, he started promoting a healthy and active lifestyle that emphasized organically grown foods. In the 1940’s he established the Rodale Organic Gardening Experimental Farm and started publishing Organic Farming and Gardening magazine, which was later retitled Organic Gardening. In 1945, he wrote Pay Dirt, the first American book on organic gardening.

One of Rodale’s most successful projects was Prevention magazine, founded in 1950. It pioneered the return to whole grains, unrefined sweets, using little fat in food preparation, folk cures, herbal medicines and breastfeeding. It also promoted nutritional supplements and cutting nicotine and caffeine. Rodale opposed the consumption of milk and sugar, which he blamed for many diseases. Rodale once stated “I’m going to live to be 100, unless I’m run down by some sugar-crazed taxi driver”

What happened

In June 1971 at the age of 72, Rodale was giving an interview on the wonders of organic food on The Dick Cavett Show. During Rodale’s interview he stated such things, “I’m in such good health that I fell down a long flight of stairs yesterday and I laughed all the way,” “I’ve decided to live to be a hundred,” and “I never felt better in my life!”

After his interview, Rodale remained onstage and was seated on a couch beside the next interviewee. Rodale then appeared to lose consciousness and leaned over. After calling for medics to perform CPR, Rodale was rushed to the hospital and pronounced dead of a heart attack. The episode was never broadcast out of respect. He died at the same age as his own father died. All his efforts didn’t even yield him one extra year of life.

Not the first

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. Dr Robins Atkins famously created the Atkins heart-healthy diet, “the apostle of protein gluttony as a passport to health, wholesomeness and the perfect figure”. Atkins had a heart attack the year before his accidental death slipping on ice. The medical examiner accidentally revealed that Atkins was suffering from hypertension and congestive heart failure at the time of death. He also died at the age of 72.

What to learn

This is not to say we shouldn’t do our best to stay healthy. We know that smoking, drinking, obesity, and other factors absolutely shorten our lives. But what we should learn is that time and again we’re shown that we can only do so much. Our best laid plans do not guarantee success for our health. We often learn later we were wrong about the science. Sometimes you just get unlucky. But no matter what, eventually all our best laid plans and efforts will fail us.

Our efforts might eek out a few more years, or even a decade or two – or in Rodale’s case – not a single year. We are all going to die someday – but this is not being overly morbid. “Carpe Diem”, Memento Mori, and other phrases and sentiments are something Christians have lived for millennium. It’s a reminder that we must live our lives with purpose and direction. Every day is a gift, and one day that gift will run out whether you are doing something with your life or not. So what are you making of the days of your life?


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