How Have We Strayed So Far?

How have we strayed so far?
A health care crisis grips this country. More importantly, a health crisis grips this country. Americans are among the most fortunate and best positioned to experience and enjoy true health of any people on the planet. Yet statistics tell a rather different story. Infant mortality rates, the growing incidence of chronic degenerative disease, rates of diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, violent crime perpetrated on one another; all place us well back in the pack. This, even though we spend significantly more on “health care” than any other country,
The reason for the quotations above is at the heart of the contradiction. We don’t have a system that enlightens and encourages us to be healthy nearly as much as one that waits for and then reacts to and treats sickness (dis-ease care); a for-profit system that cannot survive on wellness, but thrives on illness. It is one that too often uses fear of becoming sick as a powerful marketing tool, fostering the belief that our bodies are inherently wayward and prone to malfunctioning (“Ask your doctor if the purple pill is right for you”). This is a departure from the truth with far-reaching consequences. In fact, our bodies, innately intelligent and self-regulating, strive for perfection every moment of our lives, right to the last. And the fact that we will never actually be perfect, at no time deters the organism from pursuing it.
Tragically, the majority of ill health in this country is the result of bad choices people make (both individually and collectively) over and over and not the genetic cards we were dealt. Of course, there are millions of exceptions that are related to environment and genes, but it doesn’t change the overall proportion. The big money-costing (and money-making) conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. are driven more by ill behavior over time than any other factor. Deep down, we all know this to be true and don’t need it spelled out to us in a study. Yet many accept the notion that no matter how they behave, medicine will be there to fix them. When Michelle Obama modestly promotes a campaign to encourage healthy eating in kids (with current childhood obesity rates hovering around 40%) she is criticized by many for “over-stepping”. This is like saying that educating kids about crossing busy streets at cross-walks instead of jay-walking through traffic is excessively controlling. Adults don’t like being presented with the reality that they are passing on their bad behavior to children.
It isn’t access to health care that should be our priority as a birthright instead of a privilege, but rather health itself. We are each individual stewards of that birthright, with a responsibility to behave in a way that honors it. When we actually have a robust and center-stage Public Health System that educates, promotes and inspires people to be well, then perhaps we will begin to actually empty hospital beds rather than fill them. I work towards this every day, because it is our very lives that are the measure.
Stuart Grey, D.C.
Brookline, MA

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