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February 26, 2006

American health declines for first time

I've found it useful to think of personal health as an exercise in management. It's a combination of science and art. Our bodies have a defense system oriented towards maintaining stability. It takes some introspection to sense when that stability is upset. And it takes some science to understand what it is telling us. Or in many cases, a little common sense to make a connection with foods that disagree with us.

But alas, we are creatures of habit. Habits that continue for decades despite the ominous consequences of ignoring the warning signs. I think his name was Hans Selye who won a Nobel Prize for his studies of stress. He found that our bodies have a limited capacity for maintaining equilibrium. That is, after a years of rebalancing repeated assaults, the most stressed organs reach a point of exhaustion, no longer able to respond. This is the major reason for why people get diabetes. We don't have to eat a perfect diet, but we do need to have the sense to stay within those limits. Speaking from experience at the age of 63, I can tell you I've had to make many adjustments as my aging body diminishes in capacity to handle abuses.

Knowing what I've had to do to maintain health and seeing what other people don't do, I've long wondered when statistics would show American health on decline. I got the answer from my company newsletter.

It has a chart which shows that the Consumer Price Index has risen 35% in the past ten years, while health care costs have risen 140%. It maintains that American health is on the decline for the first time ever. Within the company alone, 20% of employees incur 82% of costs.

More than 60% of American adults are not regularly active, and 25% are not active at all. 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese. America is number one in terms of medical spending and 50% higher than the second highest country. At the same time we are 42nd in infant mortality and 47th in life expectancy. Medical errors are the 8th leading cause of death.

Here's the kicker: the US spent approximately $1.9 trillion on health care while the defense budget was "only" $401.7 billion.

And finally, the newsletter hints that the company is looking for ways to get itself out of this albatross. It's a good bet that every company large and small is thinking the same way. As the cost of government health care systems continue to escalate, expect more bureaucratic rationing. You don't want to tempt disease.

Posted by Ray Hewitt at February 26, 2006 07:36 AM