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America’s Health: Synopsis 2008 Opinion Editorial by Douglas L. Beck, AuD

America’s Health: Synopsis 2008 Opinion Editorial by Douglas L. Beck, AuD

December 30, 2008 Editorials

America’s physical health (aren’t you glad I’m not writing about America’s economic health!) is not great. We're now 232 years old and clearly, we’ve let ourselves go.

According to Park (2008) 67 percent of all Americans are overweight or obese (between 1980 and 2004 obesity rates doubled in the United States), 27 percent of Americans have high blood pressure, 96 percent of Americans cannot recall the last time they ate a salad, and 40 percent of Americans get no exercise. These are the reasons the youngest generation of Americans may be the first generation to live a shorter life span than their parents. And to make it worse, Ohlemacher (2007) noted that although Americans currently live longer than ever before, residents of 41 other countries live longer. What?

Dykman (2008) reports that the United States spends more on health care than any other nation. He predicts that the money spent on health care will be 20 percent of the entire United States budget by 2017, half of which will come from Medicare (good luck!). Actually, that’s not so hard to imagine because in 2005, we apparently spent 16 percent of our gross domestic product on health care--roughly $2 trillion (Park, 2008). Nonetheless, despite the money spent, Americans live shorter lives (we’re 34th with regard to life expectancy) and have a higher infant mortality rate than many other developed nations (we’re 29th in the world, tied with Poland and Slovakia). What?

Okay, it’s not all bad.

Park also noted that according to the federal Health and Human Services (HHS) department, some 80 percent of all babies under age three years have been appropriately vaccinated. Further, half of all adults ages 50 and over have had colon scans. Then again, according to Kolata (2008), a colonoscopy can miss a significant amount of colon cancer (she argues 40 percent of right-sided colon cancers are missed).

More good news... smoking is way down. In 1965, about half of all men in the United States smoked, as did some 35% of women. Fortunately, now only about 21 percent of American men smoke, as do some 18 percent of American women (see Time Magazine chart. page 44, Dec 1, 2008), so that's going the right way. Regarding preventable deaths, such as those from pneumonia, diabetes, strokes, etc., we lose more than 100,000 Americans per year, placing us at number 19--the very bottom of the list of the 19 industrialized nations.

But again, it’s not all bad. The top three killers in the United States are heart disease, cancer, and stroke. With regard to those same three killers, we’re doing better (2005) than we were in 1980. In 1980, seven of every 10 deaths in the United States was from one of the top three. In 2005, it was down to five of every 10 (Dykman).

Perhaps the icing on the cake relates to newborn hearing screening, where we, as a nation--totally rule. We screen some 95 percent of all newborns in the United States for hearing loss (White, 2008).

So the bottom line is…We’re doing great with regard to immunization and hearing screening, we’ve improved with regard to deaths from stroke, heart disease, and cancer and smoking, but we are just really, really bad with regard to weight, exercise, and nutrition.

Friedman (2008) quoted Michael Mandelbaum (from Johns Hopkins) as saying, “People don’t change when we tell them they should. They change when they tell themselves they must.” Seems a shame to wait.

Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.

For More Information, References, and Recommendations:
Dykman, Jackson. (2008): America’s Health Checkup. December 1, 2008. Time Magazine.

Friedman, TL. (2008): Hot Flat and Crowded. Published by Farrar, Starus and Giroux, NYC. ISBN - 13:978-0-374-16685-4. Page 108.

Kolata, Gina (2008): Colonoscopies Miss Many cancers, Study Finds (Dec 16, 2008)

Park, Alice (2008): America’s Health Checkup. December 1, 2008. Time Magazine.

Stephen Ohlemacher, AP Writer (August 11, 2007): U.S. Life Span Shorter

White, K. (2008): Newborn Hearing Screening. In Pediatric Audiology, Diagnosis, Technology and Management. Editors: Madell & Flexer. Thieme Publishers, 2008. ISBN 978-1-60406-001-0.

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