Are Americans Lazy About Their Health?

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An article in the July Issue of Atlantic Monthly takes a different approach to solving our health care woes in this country.

In his article, “The Worst Patients in the World” David Freedman opines, “Americans are hypochondriacs, yet we skip our checkups. We demand drugs we don’t need, and fail to take the ones we do. No wonder the U.S. leads the world in health spending. “

The main emphasis in the article is that Americans simply do not want to take personal responsibility for their health. They much prefer that they get to do what they want, i.e. smoke, eat poorly, overconsume alcohol, maintain a sedentary lifestyle and yet expect to have full bodily function. If anything is wrong there should be a pill, procedure or surgery to fix it, but they will not have to change anything.

One place I see this behavior is in folks who will spend hundreds of dollars monthly on supplements that promise to make you happier, melt away pounds, sleep better, have more energy, have less joint pain, make you stronger, etc. Yet most of the research will tell you that you are simply and often literally flushing your money away.

The reality is that if we exercise more and change our diet, we will likely achieve most of those goals. Oh, but that takes work! Or at a minimum, some effort on our part.

At a recent meeting of Redding East Rotary, Dr. Annie Purcell DO shared her research confirming that regular exercise and heavily plant based diet will make us healthier and happier. She is so committed to this belief that she has modified her practice to include about 10-15% of her patients in a lifestyle medicine treatment program.

One important side benefit of changing to a more plant based diet is the effect on our global environment, but that is a different topic.

It’s ironic to observe political pundits who talk about personal responsibility, yet are clearly obese and even have known history of drug abuse. We often miss the hypocrisy.

This isn’t said to be cruel or point a finger at someone experiencing a serious health challenge. Not all issues are within our control, but certainly the obesity epidemic in this country is clearly a contributing factor in health care costs.

I recently heard about a patient who left her primary care doctor because he told her she was fat. I wasn’t privy to the actual conversation with the doctor so I am not sure if he was quite that direct or if he tried to be more gentle in his presentation.

I know we are all a bit sensitive. Heck, I don’t like it when my doctor says, “Well, for a woman of your age…” or “This condition is often found in elderly women”. But then I look in the mirror and at my driver’s license and have to shrug it off. It’s the truth, whether I see it that way or not!

Should the doctor be more polite? Of course! I would like to think he wasn’t cruel when he told the woman what she likely already knew: that she was obese.

Another study, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology found that “high [body-mass index], smoking, and high fasting plasma glucose are the three most important risk factors in the United States, and that although smoking is decreasing, BMI and fasting plasma glucose levels are steadily increasing.”

Freedman states that American’s seem to believe that they should have the “best” treatment, regardless of cost. If one treatment were ten times the cost and likely to prolong your life only months longer than the first, many Americans choose the latter. I see many clients totally inured to the costs of procedures, because “insurance will pay for it”. The numbers are so big as to be pretty much meaningless. Those costs are always passed back in increased premiums, but they tend to forget that fact.

In a “Speak your piece” article I prepared for the Record Searchlight in 2001 I quoted the cartoon character Pogo when I discussed health care costs in the US, “We have met the enemy and he is us!” I tend to agree with Mr. Freedman and sadly not much has changed. In fact, it’s probably worse.

Margaret R. Beck
Margaret Beck  CLU, ChFC, CEBS started her insurance practice in Redding in 1978. As an insurance broker/consultant,  she represents businesses and individuals as their advocate.  She assists in choosing proper products, compliance with complex benefit laws and claims issues once coverage is placed. All information in her column is provided to the best of her knowledge, subject to final regulation by the respective agencies. Questions to be answered in this column can be submitted to Beck's column is also published in the Redding Record Searchlight.
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12 Responses

  1. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    I believe, when it comes to losing weight, doctors should be more like the diet fad gurus. Instead of telling a patient they need to lose weight, tell them to lose five pounds by the next visit and if they do celebrate it. Then tell them to lose another five pounds, etc.

  2. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Such a simple fix– and mostly ignored. Health guru, Covert Baily, wrote, “The magic bullet to good health is exercise.” That along with his Fit or Fat Target Diet, mostly plant based, mirrors exactly what you have written. I have read that about 85% of Americans’ health issues, including many cancers, would never occur if we ate a proper diet and did 30-60 minutes of exercise a day. Thanks, Margaret.

  3. Avatar Richard Christoph says:

    Thanks for this informative and entertaining reminder of what we should, and probably do, know.

  4. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Great article Margaret. There are a couple of things that have contributed to this lack of personal responsibility for a person’s health. Many in the medical profession are trained to fix things not promote behaviors that would prevent needing a “fix” in the first place. Diet and exercise are sometimes viewed as “alternatives” to real medicine. I think this is changing. A friend’s doctor told her she was prediabetic…and told her specifically what to do to come back from the brink. They worked together to help her meet her goals. She’s good to go.
    There is a billion dollar fast food industry promoting “quick and cheap” over nutritious and not so quick. Coke and burgers with your buds certainly has more appeal than eating “rabbit food”. The meat based main meal is still the staple in many homes. Again, thank you for a great article.

  5. Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

    Oh, and I forgot all the TV ads for various medications. Why change your diet when you can take a pill to counter the negative effects of bad food?

    • Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

      There outta be a law – and that law would be that prescription drugs could not be advertised on television or in print.

  6. Avatar Bruce Vojtecky says:

    I don’t know about elsewhere but here in Phoenix we are being flooded with TV ads against Medicare for all from One Nation, whoever they are. And AARP is running ads for Senator McSally, no mention of Senator Sinema, to vote to lower prescription prices. Is Redding getting similar ads?

  7. Avatar Sue Shine says:

    Another of your most-informative articles. Of great concern to me is that these adults, of which you are speaking, are role models for infants, on up. In think it is criminal that children are given candy and all the other stuff (snacks and treats) that’s detrimental to their health. I can’t see that changing significantly. Certainly, once a child is out of the home, there is no control (a good reason for home schooling?). Of course there are other aspects of being a good role model which are reflected in your article.

    Looking forward to more of your meaningful articles.

    • Joanne Snyder Joanne Snyder says:

      Sue, schools have definitely made moves towards healthier food. My school got rid of soda machines years ago and had a salad bar for lunch in the last years I worked. Gone are the day of class parties with cupcakes and candy! Several of us had fruit bowls in our classroom and would incourage kids who didn’t want the fruit they were served for lunch to put it in the bowl for the morning. Schools have strict regulations concerning nutritian these days. Some schools even have school gardens. We’re moving in the right direction.

  8. Avatar Anonymous Heckler says:

    My doctor tells me I’m fat. And tells me it’s bad for my blood pressure. Then we talk about how to work on it. Isn’t that what a PCP is supposed to do?

  9. Avatar Sue Shine says:

    Joanne, I thank you for your comments about school regs and such. When I’m out and about, so often I see toddlers and older children eating candy (reminds me of pacifiers), while they’re accompanying an adult who is shopping. Occasionally, I do see a child, removing a pkg. of sweets from a shelf in a store, who is told to put it back. Why was it appealing to the child in the first place? Glad there is more control in the schools.

  10. Avatar Colleen Adams says:

    My husband is a primary care physician, and I can tell you that almost every day he feels that he is over $500,00 in debt just to see people all day who smoke, are overweight, not physically active, and want pills to make them feel better. He spends more than half of his time denying people Norcos and begging them to “Eat less, move more” than he does actually practicing medicine. It is very depressing. Most of the people actually have untreated psych issues which cause them to abuse drugs and alcohol, make bad relationship choices, overeat, etc. But telling people that many of their physical problems stem from psych issues is often met with… you guessed it.. DENIAL. I often tell him that we should open up a practice together (I spent most of my adult career as a substance abuse counselor) that is part life coaching and part doctoring. That way he won’t have to deal with things that are not really medical issues, but bad lifestyle issues. Once people get motivated to change their unhealthy lifestyles (that affect physical and mental health) then the doctors can spend time (and the money can be spent) on health problems that people don’t have much control over.