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The Health of a Nation

April 22nd, 2008 | by Dr. Forbush |

I am going to concede right here at the beginning that what I am about to say is based on nothing more than the view of a couple of pictures, conjecture and imagination. However, just like there may be no truth in it at all there also exists the possibility that there is some truth. I will make my argument in the form of supporting evidence for a hypothesis and leave the rest up to some brave soul who may be willing to do this project for her thesis.

Today an interesting paper on the reverse in longevity of Americans was released. The authors claim that the results certainly are surprising, because with the progress in the development of new technology it certainly seems strange that America, the country leading the charge in medical technology, would have such a slide in the opposite direction. The conclusion is that Americans on average are dying sooner now than in 1983.

The study is available online and goes into more detail than I need for my conjecture. Figure 3 in the study shows how longevity increased in the US between 1961 and 1983 on an county by county map. This map shows quite a bit of increased longevity across the country no matter where you lived no matter if you are male or female. However, figure 3 also includes two maps for the US between 1983 and 1999. These maps show a decline in longevity for the country on a whole, and particularly in the center of the country.

If you are aware of similar maps of this type used to portray the results of presidential elections you might recognize a striking similarity between the election maps of the 2000 and 2004 presidential election and the maps displaying the change in longevity. I don’t have the numbers at hand, but by just looking at these maps one can conclude that if you live in a county that supported George W Bush in the 2004 election your longevity also decreased between 1983 and 1999. Coincidence? You be the judge.

Not only that, but the counties with the highest level of support for John Kerry in the 2004 election actually saw increases in their longevity.

There could be several reasons for this. If we look at stereotypes we might be able to figure this out. A person who supported John Kerry is likely to be a Democrat or a liberal leaning independent. And everyone knows that type. Many of these liberals are health conscious, eat healthy (maybe even vegetarian), they exercise, go hiking, walk rather than drive, and are knowledgeable about the poisons in the environment that might harm them. Everyone knows that people like this live in two major areas - the San Francisco Bay area and The New York metropolitan area. And, guess what, these are the places with the highest longevity. These places also care the most about getting the government involved in protecting its citizens with health and safety regulations. So, its no wonder that these are the places why the increase in longevity in the US is most pronounced.

But, that really does not explain why the center of the country would have a decline in longevity between 1983 and 1999. This is the area with the strongest support for George W Bush and the Republicans. The decline for women in the area is even more pronounced than the decline for men. Why? Republicans believe that the government should not intervene, basically because people should have the freedom to decide for themselves. Obviously people want to live longer and simple desire will get people to make the right decisions. Based on the Republican beliefs people living under the Republican model should be healthier because the free market allows the people to make their own decision without government interference. People want to live longer and the free market will allow for things like healthy food, cheap workout facilities, safe vehicles, safe work places, cheap and effective health care and all of desires of people who naturally want to live longer. What better experiment could we have designed to test the two strategies for creating a better healthier society?

The years of this study are quite intriguing. From the Kennedy administration until the third year of Reagan social policy was mainly old school status quo. After three years of Reagan many of these policies were crippled by that administration. Slowly as Republicans became powerful their ideology and life style choices began to spread, mainly in the center of the country. Attitudes toward the “ridiculousness” of caring about what we put in our bodies began to catch on. And, based on the maps in figure 3 people began to care less about living a healthy life, especially in the Republican strongholds. Actually, based on this evidence it might actually be possible to put someone on a scale, weigh them, and determine if they are a Republican or a Democrat. Well, maybe not, because weight is only one of the many unhealthy things that Republicans seem to continually support. They don’t want our food labeled so that we can know what kinds of poisons were used in the processing. They don’t want us to be reminded of Global Warming. They don’t like protection and safety in the work place. They don’t want us to limit cigarette smoking in public places. They didn’t want seat belts to become mandatory safety devices in cars. They didn’t want the seat belts to have shoulder belts. They didn’t want the government to pay for vaccines for the poor. They don’t like to spend money on public health services. They didn’t want to spend money protecting our troops by giving them body armor. They didn’t want to spend the money to reinforce the Humvees they were driving in the Iraq War. The list is endless. But, I need to stop before I get too angry.

The point is, do we want to continue to follow the Republican ideas about public safety and continue to say our longevity as a country decline, or do we want to look to New York and San Francisco and increase our longevity as a country?

There are about 200 countries in the world. Many of these countries are extremely poor and many people are forced to live on less than a dollar a day. Health and safety issues in these places take second or third priority behind things like getting enough to eat. Based on GDP the US is number one in the world. However, what possible excuse could we have for falling lower than the top thirty countries in the world as far as longevity is concerned? This should be considered a national disgrace. But, by the careful deflection of this issue many are still convinced that the US health care system is the best in the world. It may be the case that health care in the US is great for those who can afford it, but many people can not afford it. And, in the future, if we continue down this trail, many fewer people will be able to afford health care in the future. This election cycle both Democrat candidates are pushing health care, but as the Republicans before him John McCain thinks that health care isn’t worth the money. The money should be spent on other things like the War in Iraq. But what he isn’t thinking about is the fact that more Americans are dying because of their poor health care than from terrorist attacks over the last 20 years or more. If we really are a nation of life as George W Bush likes to tell us then the Republicans should be a bit concerned about the health of our nation.

Then again, maybe Republicans just don’t care about their longevity because of some strange religious belief. If that’s true, then maybe this all makes a bit more sense.


Don’t forget what Stephen Colbert said, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Cross Posted @ Bring It On, tblog, Blogger and BlogSpirit


  1. 4 Responses to “The Health of a Nation”

  2. By Craig R. Harmon on Apr 24, 2008 | Reply

    Off topic, I guess, but I can’t seem to find a way to blog about this with the International News blog being down and all. The BBC has a story about the possibility that young people will be banned from tanning beds.

    Anyone see a connection between government provided health care and the restriction on individual freedom, yet? F. A. Hayek was right when he wrote The Road to Serfdom and The Constitution of Liberty. There’s a definite connection between the expansion of centralized governmental power and the restriction on individual liberties. When government thinks it is your parent, look out! They’re not likely to stop looking at you as their dependent child who must be steered away from anything that might be harmful to you when you turn 18. You’ll be their dependent child for life.

    Of course, if you’re into that sort of thing…

    I tell you, I get more libertarian every time I read stories like this. Yes, I know this is England, not America and that the proposal is for under 18 year olds, not 18 and older. Still, how soon before exposing skin to the suns rays is banned in order to limit the pressure that skin-cancer treatments will put on the health-care system later in life. It’ll be for the common good, of course, but what will happen to the manufacturers of short-sleeve shirts and Bermuda shorts…not to mention tanning beds?

    Okay, that last part is facetious…sort of.
    But it does show how governmental power, with the best of intentions — it’s for the kids, after all, as well as to alleviate pressures on the health-care system — considers its own needs and preferences to individual rights and liberty. What about things like individual preference with regard to one’s own body? Getting a tattoo can be dangerous, too. How soon before tats are banned? When the jack-boot of governmental nannies presses down on the neck of the poor teenager on the tanning bed, no liberties are sacred.

    Okay, facetious again…sort of.


  3. By Craig R. Harmon on Apr 24, 2008 | Reply

    Big government nannyism is incompatable with individual freedom. As somebody once said, “Give me my tanning bed or give me death!”

    Well, he said something like that. Close enough, anyway.

  4. By Craig R. Harmon on Apr 24, 2008 | Reply

    And it’s Stephen Colbert that has the well-known liberal bias; reality just is.

    Maybe that’s why liberals are so confused. They think of reality, rather than themselves, as biased. ;-)

  5. By Craig R. Harmon on Apr 24, 2008 | Reply

    Sorry, Doctor, if this is hijacking your comment thread but it doesn’t seem to be being used for its intended purpose anyway. :-)

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