The health of nations:
The health status of Americans is not good.  (Boyer et al. Confronting the Sorry State of U.S. Health (Science vol. 341 no. 6149 August 30, 2013 page 962)  Among rich countries our health is the very worst.  And this is not simply a matter of availability of care nor of the poverty of a big segment of the country.  At any given income level Americans are less healthy and more likely to die than citizens of any other rich country. 

Many years ago I spent a couple of months in Sweden and loved the place.  When I would speak about it after getting home the standard response was, “Yes, but they are all committing suicide.”  I don’t know about now but then it was true that the suicides per hundred thousand Swedes were more numerous than the suicides per hundred thousand Americans.  But if you looked at the income level it was a different story.  At any level of income a Swede was less likely to commit suicide than an American.  What we had, and of course, still have, is a large number of poor people.  Life is not good if you are very poor.  If things are not going well something else is likely to come along and kill you before suicide seems like an option.

Needless to say my response drew blank looks.  I’ve been getting them on a number of topics for a long time, to tell the truth.

The article I cite goes into some detail.  The thing they seem to come out with is that drinking, smoking and obesity are killing Americans.  In my time abroad it always seemed that people drank more and smoked more than Americans.  But I suppose the author has better data than I ever had. 

Obesity, yes.  We are hippos.  There was a time when Americans looked normal.  I was a shrimp by American standards (although very strong) but elsewhere I was pretty big.  I wasn’t huge.  I was just a big guy.  Then we stopped growing upward and started growing outward.  Of course I must have mentioned that I suspect that the same mechanism has been at work in both cases, that it comes from too many generations marrying people who are too little related.

But let us suppose otherwise.  Why, as a nation, should we smoke, drink and die in excess of what we can afford?  Denied my usual explanation I would say that the problem is alienation.  We aren’t happy because we don’t feel at home.  How could anybody?  Things in the world around us are changing fast, but they change faster elsewhere.  South Korea has modernized faster than we.  Internet access for instance is superior.  And cell phones are very widespread in very poor parts of Africa.  What doesn’t change so much, of course, who ones friends and neighbors and relatives are.  That changes very fast here.  I fear it is changing fast in the United Kingdom as well.  The last time somebody flashed violence statistics at me England was bumping people off as much as we were.  Now that’s a change.  The person who had put the statistics was blaming drinking.  I blame unhappiness.

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