Friday, January 22, 2010

when diet and exercise aren't enough

My first rant, I guess.

A colleague was diagnosed last year with prostate cancer. The aggressive kind: it had already metasticized when they caught it. He has good insurance, so he's been getting top-of-the line care, in the hospital with the best oncology department in the US.

He came to tell me today that neither surgery nor radiation therapy worked. Next up is chemo, but the best he can hope for is that the chemo slows the cancer's progress. Virtually everyone who has his form of cancer winds up with cancer of the bones, brain, lungs, or liver. He's just hoping that his top-of-the-line care will delay the inevitable spread of the cancer until he reaches retirement age.

Thing is, this colleague did everything right. He never smoked. He isn't overweight. He eats healthy foods, usually organic. He and his wife love to hike. They wear long-sleeved clothes and ginormous hats throughout our all-too-brief summer, out of fear of skin cancer. There are no risk factors in his family. He has had regular physicals all through his adult life, including prostate screening. Yet, he's dying.

What does this have to do with health and fitness? If you read comments on political, news, or fitness blog posts about health care reform, it won't take long before you run into a blame-the-victim mentality. If "those people" would just eat better or get more exercise, so the meme goes, we wouldn't need health care reform. (Yes, I've stopped shopping at Whole Foods, because the CEO is one of these idiots.)

Thing is, bad things happen to good people. In a civilized society -- especially one in which such a high percentage of the population professes their country's moral and spiritual superiority every chance they get -- it shouldn't also be true that when bad things happen to good people, only the rich good people get an extra year of life.

The US spends more $ per person on health care than any other advanced industrialized society: more than twice the average of AISs, and 1.5 times more than our nearest competitor for this dubious honor (Norway). Yet, our life expectancy is middling at best. If it wasn't for the former eastern bloc countries and Mexico, we'd be at the very bottom among AIS countries. (Andrew Gelman made a nice scatterplot showing this using National Geographic data.)

Yeah, Americans are fat, but that's not why health care costs are so high. Health care costs are high because our health care system makes no sense. Reform it. Now.


  1. I'm so sorry....
    Rant on. More people should have been ranting for more years.

  2. Sorry to hear about your colleague. The research is out there to the prevention of these horrible illnesses and diseases, but we won't believe it because we have been programmed by the government to eat grains and stay out of the sun. They have this backwards! We need sun (vitamin d) and we should never eat grains (toxic and high GI)! I truly believe, as do many others who eat a paleo diet, the government is killing us slowly. i doubt it was their intention to harm us, however there is more than enough research to prove we are eating the wrong way period!