One would think that there would be a strong correlation between a nation’s wealth and abundance to its health. I mean, it doesn’t take a giant leap of faith to think that the more money and resources a country has, the healthier it should be, right?
The United States is currently doing a pretty good job of killing that theory, despite spending the highest percentage of GDP on health care probably of any country in the history of the world.
According to a recent article by Eryn Brown in the L.A. Times, compared to its “wealthy counterparts,” the United States’ collective health is pretty crummy.
In her article entitled “U.S. Health is Lousy Compared with Peer Nations, Report Says,” Brown highlights a recent report released by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine that talks about our health shortcomings as a country. Here are some highlights… or lowlights depending on your point of view:
The analysis of international health data determined that American men had the lowest life expectancy among men in 17 countries, including wealthy European nations, Australia, Canada and Japan. U.S. women had the second-lowest life expectancy (only Danish women fared worse.)
The study listed nine health areas in which Americans came in below average: infant mortality and low birth weight, injuries and homicides, adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, HIV and AIDS, drug-related deaths, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, chronic lung disease and disability.
Obviously, proper diet can’t directly help with murders, teen pregnancy, etc., but it seems to me that it could help with at least the latter part of the list. Though, one could argue that a proper diet should lead to increased cognitive capacity and critical thinking, thus reducing the chances of many of the other things on this list. This is an argument I’ll save for another time.
For the sake of this article, let’s take violence, STDs, etc. off the table and just look at things that can be controlled by, among other things, our food choices.
It never ceases to amaze that no matter how much money we throw at our health problems – obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. – and at health care, our collective health continues to deteriorate. Why is that? Shouldn’t all of our money have bought us a magic cure?
Let me recap something that I wrote in my “Eating Healthy Doesn’t Have To Be Expensive” post:
In the United States, health care spending accounted for 15.2% of the GDP in 2008, and stands to grow to 19.5% of the GDP by 2017. In terms of dollars, that’s somewhere between $2.1 and $2.5 trillion dollars per year. For an overwhelming point of reference, what we spend on health care is more than the total GDP of every country in the world except China, Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
Logic stands to reason that since we spend the most on health care we must be the healthiest and, since we keep spending more and more each year, we must be getting healthier.
Not so fast.
I believe we already have a “magic cure” and the problem is we simply don’t like the answer. We live in such a fast-paced society and expect everything to come instantaneously that, while we know we should be eating well and being active (let’s not use the term exercise since the connotation is people packed into a crowded gym and running on treadmills ad nauseum), we don’t want to do that because:
- It requires delayed gratification and does not instantaneously solve our problems.
- It requires us to change our habits, which is one of the most difficult tasks for us to undertake.
- It requires us to hold ourselves accountable for our actions.
I understand things happen that are out of our control, and it is possible that you could do everything right your entire life and drop dead of a heart attack. However, I also believe that things like this are the exception, not the rule, and we have a lot more control over our health than we want to believe.
Long story short, to me, the idea of health from a nutritional standpoint all comes down to choices. Are you choosing convenience over health? Are you choosing instant gratification over delayed gratification?
Or, to put it better than I can, here’s what Laird Hamilton said in an interview with Men’s Health:
People say that buying quality food is too expensive, but then they’ll go out and buy giant plasma TVs. So you’re eating like crap but you’re staring at a nice screen? I don’t understand that logic. Instead, budget so that you can spend a little more money for better food. In particular, be sure to upgrade anything you eat on a regular basis.
So what are you choosing? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts on this topic!