Monday, August 13, 2007

life (expectancy) in the US

This article, "US Slipping in Life Expectancy Rankings," is interesting on all sorts of levels.

The quote at the end especially provides food for thought: "Policymakers also should focus on ways to reduce cancer, heart disease and lung disease, said Murray. He advocates stepped-up efforts to reduce tobacco use, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar.

"Even if we focused only on those four things, we would go along way toward improving health care in the United States," Murray said. "The starting point is the recognition that the U.S. does not have the best health care system. There are still an awful lot of people who think it does."

I remember having a conversation with a couple of friends who were convinced that the U.S. does have the best health care system. If you can pay for it, you can see the world's best specialists. In Canada (or other places with single payer health care), even if you can pay for it, you have to get in line. This was, they decided, the mark of a system worth having.

I agree that it's nice to get good health care if you can pay for it. However, if you're getting it and the next sixty or seventy people aren't, it leaves you in rather poor company. What I mean is- I don't really want to live in a society in which 6.8 of every 1000 babies die before they turn one-- and double that if they're African-American. To me, that reflects a society that doesn't prioritize its own long-term health.

It's troubling enough that I can see how this issue (which is really many issues) could seriously destabilize the nation. An unhealthy country is not going to be on top for long, no matter how wealthy. Democracy depends on an engaged, educated, healthy populace. I'm not saying the U.S. is going to crumble tomorrow, but when it feels like our democracy is failing us, I have to ask myself what's preventing popular participation. It's not far-fetched to guess that one reason is lack of health (related to stress, related to obesity, related to environmental health issues, etc.).

Reduce tobacco use, control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. It's interesting that these top four recommendations to turn this quite shocking statistic around all have to do with preventive measures. And three of the four have direct links to what we eat. What would have to change in our society for us to become more aware of the links between what we eat and how we live? To recognize the profound improvements in health we could enjoy if we decided to prevent rather than treat later?

Well, let this blog play some small but positive role: if you are working on any or all of these four recommendations, I'm completely supporting you from cyberspace!! You are doing more than you think. Not only are you improving your own quality of life, you are also contributing to a healthier American people and freeing up resources for our creaky old health care system to help others. You are doing great things!