We could use some of the US’s ambition, but they can keep their food, says Malcolm Walker

I am writing this on a plane heading back from the US after visiting a small Midwest town called Rochester.

My trip was for a routine health check and on the recommendation of Graham Kirkham and Tom Farmer I went to the best medical centre in the world – The Mayo Clinic. The experience reinforced all my beliefs and prejudices about the US.

The Mayo Clinic employs 50,000 staff including 3,000 world-class doctors. The buildings, the people, the organisation and the cleanliness are beyond the comprehension of those accustomed to healthcare in the UK.

The grand piano and the opera singer in the atrium are fit for a grand hotel. And everything else about the clinic impresses – from the clean-cut, educated, English-speaking staff to the state-of-the-art equipment, and the efficiency and politeness with which you are processed through. There is no waiting, no appointments for next week or next month – anyone you need to see is called and makes the effort to see you now.

The MRI scanner at the Chester Bupa hospital is a mobile unit on a lorry and is only there on Tuesdays. The Mayo has banks of them.

It costs money but the only complaint we heard from our taxi driver was about the Obama medical bill being forced through. He doesn’t want the government “screwing up health – leave it to private enterprise”.

Yet for a city built round a hospital with the most advanced healthcare in the world, a remarkably high percentage of the local residents are fat. Not just fat, but grossly obese to the point where they can’t even walk properly.

The restaurants in town had the most amazing staff in the world but the food they served was dire. It is not possible to eat healthily. Most of the protein comes in bread buns and if it doesn’t you have five choices of sauces. The portions are enormous and even upscale restaurants offer a take-out box for any leftovers. Why?

Bizarre contradictions abound. Eating a breakfast in the Mayo hotel should guarantee the clinic a customer for life: even the French toast is deep-fried. The Mayo has the most accurate and sophisticated brain scanners but the hotel internet wouldn’t work.

The US is the economic powerhouse of the world, a nation of entrepreneurs whose self-reliance and confidence leaves us for dead. The saying went that in the US a man sees someone drive past in a Rolls-Royce and thinks “one day I’ll have one of those” whereas in Britain he thinks “bastard”.

And it certainly used to be true. When I acquired my first Porsche in the early 1980s I parked it away from the office as I was embarrassed if the staff saw it. That didn’t stop it being scratched on a weekly basis by the local residents.

People also say: America today, Britain tomorrow. I just hope we can import some of their drive, ambition and can-do attitude and leave behind the food and the resulting obesity.

Having said that, it’s here already and I blame not the US but whoever abolished domestic science at school. That is actually the root cause of many of our health and social problems.

And that comes from me – the ultimate purveyor of chicken nuggets. But in my next article I’ll explain why Iceland leads the way in healthy eating.

After all, my aim is to live to be 120 in perfect health – and The Mayo Clinic confirms that, so far, I am exactly on plan.

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