A new study of mortality in 16 countries offers reasons why Americans are less healthy and die younger than people in other wealthy countries: We eat more poorly, get fatter and have less access to health care.
The 404-page report, done by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council also found that even though we are a so-called wealthy country, we have more people living in poverty.
In too many cases, out health care system contributes to that poverty.
We tallied up lower scores than these other nations on infant mortality, injury and homicide rates, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted illnesses, HIV/AIDS, drug addiction, obesity and diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and disabilities.
So, what's the problem here?
Well, for one thing, out food supply is contaminated by chemicals and it's less nutritious than it could be because of our industrialized agriculture.
Why is it that many glucose-intolerant people can eat wheat in Europe but not here? It's because they're not reacting to the glucose but to something else -- likely some chemical we're adding that Europeans are not.
We add high fructose corn syrup to everything because it's cheaper than sugar, and our bodies do know the difference, despite what the corn industry's ads say. High fructose corn syrup is metabolized differently, leaving our bodies unable to use insulin the way they should, leading to a higher likelihood of type 2 diabetes. Corn sugar also makes our bodies feel hungrier, leading to overeating and obesity. The "epidemic" of obesity and diabetes began in the 1970s, which is exactly when we started using so much high fructose corn syrup in our food.
Americans spend less on food as a portion of our income than any other wealthy nation, but we get what we pay for -- lousy nutrition. These contaminated, compromised foods are what's making us sick, but we continue to belly up to fast food counters and wolf down the crap they dish out. We continue to eat processed food because it's more "convenient."
The food industry is as powerful as Wall Street when it comes to fending off regulation, so we have to be smarter consumers. We have to buy locally from small farms whenever we can, organic, when we can't get local. Know our farmers. Most places have tailgate markets and farmer's markets now. There's really no reason to eat antibiotic- and hormone-laden meats. Yes, local, humanely raised meat is more expensive, but what is your health worth? Eat less meat.
Our food system is leaving us open to so many illnesses and millions of us are lacking full access to health care. We get sick and fat and we either don't have insurance or our deductibles and co-pays are so high we can't get the care we need for our high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, so our condition gets worse until we have a heart attack or stroke, go into renal failure or lose a limb. Then we go deep into debt from the cost of crisis care. In right-to-work states, people lose their jobs because of illness, leaving them sick, in debt and uninsured.
Our poverty levels are only partly caused by health care costs, although that is a contributing factor. The real problem is that we are paid less than we were a generation or two ago. There has been a steady erosion of workers' wages and rights since 1980 as the power of unions has eroded. We work harder, make less and are less secure in our jobs than any time since the 1930s. As poorer people, we are less able to afford decent nutrition and we have less access to quality health care. We live in less safe neighborhoods and we are exposed to more dangerous pathogens because of the lack of food regulation.
Our children are at higher risk of STDs and teen pregnancy because rather than teach them about safe sex, we pretend they won't become sexually active until their wedding nights and they wind up pregnant or worse. We pretend that talking to them will make them want to experiment so they begin to experiment anyway with little or no education.
Overall, we're a mess and the causes are easy to identify but difficult to fix with our current political polarization and the control huge corporations have over our government.
We have to make the changes we can and lobby for changes at a higher level. We need real regulation of our food supply and real access to health care.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 23rd annual Kids Count Data Book, which looks at a variety of measures of child well-being in four areas: Economic, Education, Health and Family and Community.
Overall, the number of children in poverty has risen by 16 percent in the last five years; the number of children whose parents lack secure employment is up by 22 percent. The number of teens not in school and not working has risen by 11 percent and 41 percent of American children live in families with a high housing cost burden (more than one-third of total income).
There is good news, though: The number of children who have health insurance has risen 20 percent despite the number of parents who lost insurance because they lost their jobs, thanks to increased government coverage for children.
In 16 states, the percent of children lacking health coverage was 5 percent or less in 2010. Massachusetts and Vermont had the lowest rate, 2 percent, compared to a high of 17 percent in Nevada and 14 percent in Texas.
The number of low birth-weight babies has stayed the same for the last several years, partly because Medicaid covers pregnant women, so women are getting the prenatal care they need. Child and teen deaths per 100,000 population are down 16 percent, again because of the increased access to care.
The report found an alarming rate of childhood obesity, which fuels the Type 2 diabetes epidemic and leaves children much more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke as adults. Much of this comes from the lack of access to healthy food in many low-income areas, both urban and rural. Families rely on cheap processed food, and children are less healthy as a result.
In overall child well-being, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Jersey and Minnesota ranked the top five, and Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, New Mexico and Mississippi ranked at the bottom.
In health, it was Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, Washington and New Jersey in the top five and Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Mississippi, New Mexico and Montana at the bottom.
It's obvious if you follow this report every year -- which I do -- that when the government decided to work to improve people's lives, good things happen. When children gain access to health care, when women get decent prenatal care, we get lower death tolls at all ages.
Because Medicaid eligibility varies from state to state, so does its effectiveness. The more people who are able to access health care, the better the scores on health and overall well-being. Education results also show a direct correlation to funding levels, including teacher pay and benefits.
Areas of high poverty have higher rates of child illness
We've had a busy couple of weeks. what with the election, Mike's and my birthday and our annual dinner and auction, Eat at Mike's. It was exhausting but worth it. I kind of think of Eat at Mike's as the WNC Health Advocates birthday party. It was our first event, beginning just after we became an official nonprofit in 2009.
But now it's time to get back to the work of fighting for access to health care for all Americans.
Already, the lame duck legislature in Ohio is voting to defund Planned Parenthood the agency that provides affordable health care to millions of low- and moderate-income women. I used it as my main health care provider when my kids were little and I didn't have health insurance.
This isn't about abortion; this is about hurting women and children, who need healthy parents.
Employers, angry at having their candidates lose the election, are firing employees because they don't want to provide health care. The owner of Papa John's Pizza, who lives in a castle surrounded by a moat and can afford to give away 2 million pizzas in a football-related promotion, can't stand the thought of having to pay for health insurance for the people who work for him, so he will cut the hours of people who are already living on the edge rather than allow them to be eligible for coverage.
The corporation that owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster had announced it will do the same thing.
A franchise owner of Applebee's will also cut hours and fir employees.
I wrote to Applebee's about this and they sent me a reply saying it's not their decision because the man has free speech. Well, he's using his free speech to make their corporation look bad, and if that's OK with Applebee's, then I'm OK with never setting foot in one of their restaurants again. Companies can fire people who make them look bad, free speech or not. Their business depends on their good name.
My solution to all this is to avoid eating in any corporate-owned restaurant. I will eat in locally owned establishments and I will contribute to local economies. With smart phones and GPS devices able to display lists of local restaurants and reviews in any town in the country, I see no need to ever contribute to these greedy corporate types ever again.
So, one minute I'm walking across the family room and the next I'm on the floor holding my foot and groaning.
The culprit was a tennis ball one of the dogs had been playing with a little while earlier.
I know something's broken because I heard and felt it crack, but I didn't go to the ER. That's $150, and they would X-ray the foot and then send me to an orthopedist who would make me wait an hour or more and then charge me $50 to tell me, "Yup, it's broken. We'll need to see you again in a week."
That would be another $50, another long wait and an appointment for the following week ... for the next eight weeks. I know because that's what happened last time and all I broke was my pinkie, and it was a simple fracture. After four weeks I quit going back and there have been no lasting repercussions.
So, I'm going to see my own doctor, and if it's a simple fracture, I'll use crutches for a couple weeks, wear a boot and be back to normal in a month or so.
That's my way of trying to keep medical costs down.
Now, if I need to see a specialist or if I need surgery, I have insurance so I can do that.
But I'm going to start with my primary care doctor, and if I can save a few hundred dollars, I will.
I almost choked when I heard Mitt Romney is using the emergency room lie.
You see, that's what George Bush said after my son had been diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
People can go to the emergency room.
Indeed they can, but they won't get what they need unless they have a simple infection that responds to common antibiotic, or a simple fracture that can be put in a cast and pretty much heal on its own, or a heart attack.
Emergency rooms are for emergencies. That's why they're called emergency rooms.
By law, emergency rooms have to accept everyone who comes in, but they don't have to offer expensive tests, like colonoscopies; they only have to address the symptoms and stabilize the patient.
So, when Mike went to the ER with abdominal pain, they told him he had gastroenteritis, billed him for the visit and sent him home.
When he went the second time, it was diagnosed as an ulcer. He went home and was billed for the visit and the medicine.
The third time, they said it was severe constipation, sold him some super-laxative and sent him home with the bill.
The fourth time, they said it must be diverticulitis. He was sent home with the bill.
He didn't get the colonoscopy he needed because the emergency room isn't there to do that. They exist to address the immediate problem and move along to the next patient.
So, do I blame the doctors in the ER that tried to address Mike's symptoms?
I blame the people who perpetuate the myth that the emergency room is access to quality care.
I remember when George Bush said it, and now Mitt Romney. Neither has ever needed care and not been able to get it. Neither understands what it's like to be sick and be denied care.
I understand because I watched my son die from it. I wouldn't wish the same on them, although I might like to have them live with their only access to care being the emergency room, just for a little while.