Warning: this is a rant. It's backed up by science, but it's my opinion, which on this issue is pretty strong. Proceeding to read means accepting that by *your* standards, *my* position may be extreme.
Below is a section from an October 2009 news story concerning a United Nations health study:
"The Geneva-based U.N. health agency listed the world's top mortality risks as blood glucose (6 percent), (6 percent), and obesity or being overweight (5 percent). (responsible for 13 percent of deaths globally), tobacco use (9 percent), high
These factors raised the risk of and some of the biggest killers such as heart disease, diabetes and cancers, and affected "countries across all income groups — high, middle and low," it said."
Okay. So if these are distinct mortality risks, these factors account for 39% of deaths globally. The other 61% are caused, I suppose, by accidents, crime, wars & terrorism, infectious diseases, pregnancy/childbirth & related complications, and non-infectious diseases other than cancer.
Here in the U.S., we don't lose many people to wars, terrorism, infectious diseases, or pregnancy/childbirth, and a good share of the non-infectious diseases are related to, associated with, or caused by the same factors that kill 39% of people worldwide.
We can, then, infer that in the U.S. more than 39% of deaths are caused either directly or indirectly by high blood pressure, tobacco use, high blood glucose, physical inactivity, and/or obesity/overweight.
And treatments for the direct and indirect results of these factors account for well over half of all healthcare spending in the U.S.; some estimates are that obesity-related healthcare alone accounts for nearly 60%.
That seems extreme to me, but when you think about how many diseases and disabilities accompany obesity, it starts to look possible.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the best treatments for these factors require no doctor visits and cost NOTHING.
Here in the U.S., we as a society have an unfortunate tendency to expect our governments to take care of us. This is unfortunate only because, while governments have been shown to be quite competent at taking care of their citizens, it takes a lot of tax money to achieve what people want, and *our* citizens seem to think they should be able to get the care (including regulation of private industry) for free.
Well, if you want free healthcare, you're going to have to do it yourself.
DIY 1: If you smoke, stop.
Not only does it cost nothing to stop (unless you use assistance medications, counseling, etc., all of which are temporary), it will save you a ton of money both on the drug you are no longer buying and on the healthcare you will no longer need.
Studies indicate or support the following:
you will be a better employee if you stop smoking, because you will need fewer breaks and take fewer sick days.
You will be a better spouse and parent if you stop smoking, because you will no longer be exposing your family to secondhand smoke, which is nearly as dangerous as direct exposure. Not to mention you will smell nicer, and be less likely to set the house on fire.
If you are a woman and intend to have kids, you will be more likely to be fertile and to carry a baby to term if you do not smoke and are not around people who do.
If you are an older person, you will be more likely to maintain your energy and mobility if you don't smoke.
Finally, you will be a better citizen if you don't smoke; I see smokers routinely throw butts out their car windows or onto sidewalks; it's disgusting, dangerous, and disrespectful.
DIY 2: Stop drinking anything, except milk, that comes in a bottle or can.
For those among us who love a glass of wine, a beer, or a cocktail: there are plenty of studies showing that moderate drinking is good for your health.
However, there are also plenty of studies showing that "moderate" is a term most people have a lot of trouble defining.
One alcoholic drink a day is generally fine, more than that is not. Having no drinks for five days and five drinks on the sixth day is not okay; it doesn't "average out."
If you have weight issues, heart issues, high blood pressure, or blood glucose problems, you should replace juices with real fruit, and you should definitely never drink sodas, "tea" drinks, or the artificial-ingredient-laden swill marketed as "sport water."
Drink WATER instead. Out of your TAP. It's FREE. If you don't like the way it "tastes," drop a bruised mint leaf or a lemon slice in it.
DIY 3: Get moving.
Replace an hour of TV watching with an hour of walking outside. If you live in a neighborhood where it is not safe to walk outside (due to traffic, poor street lighting/sidewalk design, crime, pollution, or other factors), spend an hour inside playing Wii Sport games, dancing, doing calisthenics, playing Twister, doing vigorous yoga, doing something besides sitting.
Get your heart rate a little bit up, and keep it up. If you can't do an hour at a time, start by doing ten minutes and work your way up. Do some in the morning, some at lunchtime, some in the evening. Find a way. Everyone has the time.
If you live two hours away from your job, look into moving closer so you don't spend those hours sitting on your ass in your car.
The less you move your body, the faster your mobility declines as you age.
The less you move, the harder your body has to work to do what it's designed to do. But also: the less you move, the fewer calories you burn. It costs nothing to move your body, especially compared to bypass surgery.
DIY 4: Start reading food labels, and stop buying any product that includes sugar in its first four ingredients.
Sugar = glucose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses. And stop buying products made with artificial sweeteners. All that crap does is train you to want sweet stuff.
If you have trouble losing weight, try cutting out wheat products; many Americans have a tendency to "celiac disease," which is an autoimmune disorder characterized by intolerance to wheat gluten (protein).
Refined starches act on the body the same way as sugars, so find a way to use whole grains, preferably oats, barley,* quinoa, brown/red/purple/black rice, flax, etc.
DIY 5: Learn to cook.
I can throw together a pot roast in the morning in ten minutes, in the slow cooker to be done after work. Less than ten bucks for a 3-pound roast and a couple of dollars' worth of vegetables and spices, and it will feed us for a couple of days. At dinnertime, it takes only another ten minutes to prep and serve. It's not rocket science or Beef Wellington, it's just simple nutritious food.
DIY 6: Keep your house clean.
Indications are that a high percentage of asthma, bronchitis, COPD and related respiratory disorders are caused or exacerbated by cockroaches and dust mites. (Housework is also good exercise.)
If you can get rid of the carpet in your home ... do it.
If not, get it cleaned regularly and keep it vacuumed. Shake out your pillows and bedspread daily. Keep your kitchen and bathroom spotless. Don't over-use bleach, and NEVER use "antibacterial" products unless someone in the house is clinically immune-compromised.
Also: Stop buying scented anything (cleaning products and personal hygiene products). All those perfumes are chemicals, many of them toxic in concentration, that your body has to filter out. If your house (or body) is clean, you won't need to spray perfume all over it.
And don't over-treat every little symptom; keep your body's house clean, too. You don't need three different medications to treat a case of the sniffles, and an antibiotic won't help when you have a cold or the flu.
Conclusion: Advances in medicine (up to and including flu vaccines, for you conspiracy theorists out there) mean we can expect to live 75+ years on average.
Do you want those years to be healthy? Or do you want to be wheezy, weak, crippled, diabetic, and/or demented in your old age?
If you don't want our government to eventually spend 60% (instead of 30%) of GDP on "healthcare," I'm sorry to break it to you but the only way to achieve that within our current system is for people to spend less on disease care.
The biggest health expense most people under 60 have in a given year isn't actual health care - it's health insurance. After age 60, the biggest expense isn't doctor visits - it's medications.
Take a little time and trouble to actually take care of yourself and you won't spend 75% of your retirement fund trying to manage preventable diseases.
*postscript: I've read that barley can induce the same GI discomforts as wheat, so if you're wheat-gluten-intolerant, avoid barley too.