One might assume that because the United States spends more on health care than any other nation ($4,500 per person in 2000) Americans should also be the healthiest folks on the planet. Unfortunately, according to the UC Atlas of Global Inequality, that is far from the truth. In terms of life expectancy, the U.S. ranks 27th (77 years). An even more alarming trend is a 30-year pattern of decreased life expectancy, a high infant mortality rate, and the reality that U.S. youth have the “highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes” among 17 developed countries studied in a recent report produced by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council.
An article by Sabrina Tavernise in the January 9, 2013 edition of The New York Times summarized the report’s distrubing findings. Particularly troubling are the findings that Americans under 50 had a higher mortality rate from gun-related homicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and car accidents than any of their counterparts in the other countries studied. We also posted the second highest rate of death from heart disease and lung disease.
Despite our many strengths as a nation, the United States also has the highest rate of poverty among the 17 developed nations in the study, limited primary care resources in a fragmented healthcare system, and a high percentage of uninsured citizens. Cuba, despite its many economic challenges and limited resources, has made healthcare a priority. The country has a universal healthcare system and one of the world’s highest doctor-to-patient ratios. The average per person healthcare expenditure in Cuba is a mere $186 or about 1/25 of per person spending in the United States. Cuba comes in just behind the United States at 28th in terms of life expectancy (76.9 years compared to the U.S.’s 77 years). Go figure.
The bottom line is that YOU are responsible for your health. No one is going to force you to be healthy or to make good choices. Some health issues bear no relation to lifestyle, but most of the truly pressing health issues in the United States are indeed related to lifestyle, income, and education. The playing field is not a level one, but we make it even less level through choice and public policy.
Controversial filmmaker and best-selling author Michael Moore made the simple choice to start walking 30 minutes each day. As Moore notes, it’s free and it feels good. Don’t stop there! You can bypass the cigarettes and save money. You can cut out the sodas and drink water or green tea. You can brew your own coffee at home and moderate your alcohol intake. You can prepare simple, fresh foods and cut out the highly-processed junk. If you don’t know how to cook, you can learn.
No one is asking you to make a 180 degree change in how you live overnight–although if that’s how you work, go for it! Try to change one thing and see where it goes. Don’t go out and get an expensive gym membership; take that walk around the neighborhood. If you hate going outside, turn on a music channel and dance like a fool where no one can see you. Instead of driving eight blocks to the post office, walk there. Plant a garden. Get enough sleep. Drink enough water. Play ball with your kids. Walk through your neighborhood and get to know folks. Just do something.
Don’t wait for a better or more convenient day. Get started right now. It’s time to take care of YOU because YOU are worth it!
Photo by Green_Mamba. Thanks!