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Are Americans Lazy About Their Health?

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. She is the founder of Affiliated Benefit Services where businesses and individuals are assisted in choosing proper products, compliance with complex benefit laws and claims issues once coverage is placed.

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