BULNES: Americans need to care more for their physical health

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet

The advanced nature of American healthcare garners a good deal of attention from political and economic disciplines regarding the system and its evolution over time. We place importance on being able to cure and treat illnesses in order to preserve our extended life expectancy. In 2016, the United States alone spent an astounding $3.3 trillion on health care. But, as remarkable as this all may sound, it simply reveals that America is in the business of “sick care” rather than being in the business of “health care.” As a society, we are better equipped to treat a disease that has already developed rather than preventing it altogether — and that needs to change. This does not necessarily need to be done through political or economic means just yet, because a substantial impact could be made simply by educating Americans on the causes behind numerous manmade diseases that could be cured through changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise habits and making information readily available on how to implement those changes. 

The high caloric, high fat and high sodium diet adapted by American society contributes to an increase in the risk of numerous diseases. Heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke, osteoporosis and several types of cancers are more likely to occur in individuals with poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. If we spent a fraction of the costs of treating these diseases on their prevention, we would eliminate the need for such high health-care costs and medical attention. A simple change in eating habits could potentially prevent approximately 678,000 deaths per year. If something as simple as incorporating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, calcium and fiber into the American diet could dramatically improve the welfare of so many Americans, then why have we not done anything about it?

The problem with the American way is the glorification of the health care system. We take full advantage of having such incredible access to medicines, medical devices, emergency services and educated health care professionals. In a way, it raises the concern of moral hazard for those with health insurance coverage and access to health care — Americans neglect their health because they have more faith now than ever in the health care system. They know that if they developed an illness, whether it be as simple as the common cold or as complex as Type 2 diabetes, there are a whole slew of medications that can nurse them back to life. But if we regressed to a time where an illness as simple as the common cold was fatal, we would be more cautious about protecting ourselves from these illnesses and take more interest in healthy living. Instead, we exploit our manmade safety nets to treat these manmade diseases in a never-ending cycle that will continue to raise health care costs exponentially for as long as we occupy the Earth. 

In order to correct this issue, we need to inform, inspire and invest. Informing Americans about how to take control of their health rather than allowing them to withstand years of trial and error swimming in all of the false, misleading information on wellness will show significant improvement in the prevention of illness. Those who are already able to sustain a healthy lifestyle should be compelled to inspire those who want and need to. We should be motivating those around us to stop taking the back seat on their well-being and caring only about a potential solution to any health complications in the future. Just as the knowledgeable were, they need to be taught, shown and explained the process because it cannot be assumed that everyone understands how to build and sustain a healthy body. Finally, we should invest the same amount of money, energy and time into our personal “health care” that America invests into its “sick care.” People need to realize that the benefits of clean eating and active lifestyles are not only a summer-ready body but also maintaining your vessel to live in for the next 20, 40, 50 years without deadly and debilitating diseases. Thinking of our bodies as an investment that will continue to provide positive returns for as long as we live makes it easier to justify going out of our way to incorporate vegetables into our diets and paying a higher price for foods that have nutritional benefit. The goal is to preserve your body’s habitability for as long as humanly possible, which needs to be done now through prevention techniques rather than later on through treatments and medicines.

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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