The CDC says Life expectancy is down for the second year in a row, decreasing by nearly 2.26 years since 2019. Covid-19 certainly played a significant part in that decline, yet we must look deeper than the headlines. Heart disease has remained the number one cause of death, cancer second, Covid third, with obesity and diabetes-related deaths rounding out the top five. The vast majority of those who died from Covid complications, though, also suffered from heart disease, diabetes, and/or obesity. 94% according to the CDC.
The United States ranks sixth of all developed countries in overall healthcare, and “first in science and technology by a wide margin" according to a Peterson Foundation study published in 2022. We rank behind only seven countries in the world with 77% of our population at least partially immunized, yet we suffered disproportionately from Covid-19. Despite our leading the world in science and technology, worldwide we rank in the top twenty for death from Covid-19 per 100,000 people, and at or near the top of the list for developed countries. We cannot ignore the fact that Americans lead the developed world with a 36% obesity rate, 48% of adult Americans have some form of heart disease, and 25% of those over 65 have diabetes.
Advances in medicine—be they new vaccines, cutting edge technologies, more and safer pharmaceuticals, better and brighter imaging, fancier computers, widespread usage of robotic surgeries, or increased access to care—all deal with fixing a problem after it has developed. To really make a difference in the quality of life, longevity, and resistance to the next pandemic, true advances in healthcare must not come from fancier and more expensive ways to patch the hole in the boat. They must come from preventing the hole from developing in the first place. We must advance our thinking and begin by making the boat stronger and more resistant to damage.
I would argue that health insurance is not really health insurance at all, but medical insurance —or more accurately, sickness insurance. Today’s medical system is designed to provide medical treatment, or sickness care. The primary function is to match a problem with a diagnosis and provide a pill, treatment or surgery to cure or cover up that diagnosis. It is not designed to promote health and wellness, and is certainly not designed to prevent illness in the first place. We have become a country that relies on “advances in medicine” rather than optimizing our health and wellness through hydration, nutrition, adequate rest and stress management, exercise and healthy relationships.
We must advance our idea of health to focus on wellness and prevention. We must learn the lessons that Covid taught us so painfully and clearly. The best defense is a good offense. Keep the body healthy to prevent the ravages of heart disease, diabetes and obesity and people will live longer with a higher quality of life. And, we will be better able to withstand whatever the world throws at us next.
~Dr. Lawrence Hutchison, MD