By Carisa Lopez
We love to brag about the awesomeness of America. We’re the bastion of democracy, the inventors of modern technology and perhaps the greatest scholars of our time. And we also, by far, have the most roller coasters in the world (and least according to one source).
Also among that superiority, however, is the way the United States continues to trail other first-world countries in terms of its citizens’ health, according to a new study.
Among wealthy nations, the U.S. ranks at or close to the bottom in all of the following areas: infant mortality and low birth weight; injuries and homicides; teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections; prevalence of HIV and AIDS; drug-related deaths; obesity and diabetes; heart disease; chronic lung disease; and disability.
The causes of our failure are vast, so for the sake of time and brevity, let’s just examine a few.
First, I’m going to go ahead and get teenage pregnancy and STIs out of the way. Sex education is an issue I feel particularly strong about, and it’s something I’ve written about previously. Our naive approach to teenage chastity is failing our youth and as a result also failing our country. It’s time to suck up our awkwardness and actually tell our youth the truth about sex.
The American diet and our high rate of obesity has also been an issue of concern in recent years, particularly diabetes and heart disease (which are rampant in my family). The debate has been about our citizens’ right to eat as they please versus their own health. New York City recently banned sugary drinks over 16 ounces in response to this epidemic, and people have gone nuts over their right to drink a giant cup of sugar. I have mixed emotions because I am a firm believer in a person’s right to privately do as they please. But an illustration of the amount of sugar that a 16-ounce drink contains would probably deter quite a few people.
We have come to embrace different body types, and while promoting self-esteem and the idea that big is beautiful is great, it’s also validating the fact that obesity is OK. While I do recognize that being too thin is just as unhealthy and that not everyone is supposed to be a size zero, we shouldn’t settle for obesity and treat it as the norm nowadays.
America spends more per capita on healthcare than any other country, yet we rank on the bottom of the list compared with peer nations on the state of our health. We are a nation that treats symptoms, but not the root cause of the problem and it’s costing us.
If we can become a healthier nation we can actually help our economy. Individuals will spend less of their income on medications and doctors, and people can take fewer sick days and our government can spend less money supporting us. If we don’t change the way we live and teach our children to eat healthy and exercise more, they’ll be seriously limited as functioning adults.
It’s impossible to take away all junk food or force people to exercise, but we can do some serious educating on the side effects of it all.