Wealth Over Health: The Deadly American Trend
Wealth or Health? Everyone wants to have both, but what if you could only have one?
Choosing wealth grants you financial security, but your health is in constant flux and requires attention, time, money, and effort so you can live your life the way you desire to.
Choosing health grants you the freedom to live without restrictions or worry of being held back by debilitating disease and dependence on pharmaceutical drugs, but your wealth is based on a strict budget and forces you to sacrifice in certain aspects of your life.
As extreme as these options may seem, many people are making this choice every day without realizing it. Think for a moment about a time when you were stressed out, physically exhausted, hungry, and emotionally drained. When was this moment? Why did you place yourself in a situation like this? For most people it is for their work, or job, or school, or career, or anything that pertains to financial gain. We sacrifice it all for wealth, but what do we sacrifice for health? Eating a balanced, nutritious diet and avoiding processed foods...nope can't give that up. Using that hour of TV time for a workout to stay in shape...absolutely not. We give so much of ourselves to our wealth and very little to our health. We believe it is difficult to exercise consistently and eat properly, but have no problem wreaking havoc on our body, mind, and soul for our money. Now how is this possible that we willingly choose to be unhealthy? Simple answer: We value wealth over health.
This article is intended to inform individuals on the reality and current state of our healthcare, well-being, and the underlying issue that is "Wealth over Health".
Identifying the problem is the first stage of addressing any issue. Below are the topics that I feel are the most concerning:
Problem #1 - Where we rank in Healthcare? (U.S. vs. The Rest of the World)
Problem #2 - The Prescription Drug Industry (The Cost of Being Unhealthy)
Problem #3 - Perspective and Acceptance of our Current Lifestyle (How much do we value our Health?)
Understanding the problem is only the beginning. The true challenge and movement develops through forming a solution. As a society we function by presenting problems and implementing quick fixes to quiet the crowd and appease to the masses. Change doesn't occur this way. This issue is deeply imbedded into our culture. We must focus on the causation rather than reacting to the effect. We strive to advance our ability to treat disease and sickness, but apply little to stopping it from occurring. The solution is prevention. Below are the solutions to the problems above:
Solution #1 - Preventing and Reversing Disease (Learning how to take control of your health)
Solution #2 - Your Health builds Your Wealth (How being healthy saves you money?)
Solution #3 - Taking Action Now to Change the Future (The Cultural shift we need)
Now let's begin with Problem #1: Where we rank in Healthcare? (U.S. vs. the rest of the world)
Here is a summary of a study conducted by The Commonwealth Fund comparing healthcare effectiveness, quality, access, and cost amongst 11 nations including the United States:
Full Report: http://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/fund-reports/2014/jun/mirror-mirror
"The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, but this report and prior editions consistently show the U.S. underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance. Among the 11 nations studied in this report—Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004 editions of Mirror, Mirror. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity."
The most expensive healthcare and the lowest rating in efficiency, equity, and healthy lives.
In regards to efficiency, "The U.S. has poor performance on measures of national health expenditures and administrative costs as well as on measures of administrative hassles, avoidable emergency room use, and duplicative medical testing."
In regards to equity, "Americans with below-average incomes were much more likely than their counterparts in other countries to report not visiting a physician when sick; not getting a recommended test, treatment, or follow-up care; or not filling a prescription or skipping doses when needed because of costs."
And then there is the healthy lives category:
Data from The World Bank shows life expectancy in the U.S. has risen from 69.77 yrs. in 1960 to 78.84 in 2013. A near 10 year increase over about a 50 year period. Looking at this data you would assume our health is steadily improving and at an all-time high point. However, this data is misleading. Quantity of life does not take into account quality of life. Are those 10 extra years a true representation of better health now compared to 50 years ago?
According to the Commonwealth Fund's findings, "The U.S. ranks last overall with poor scores on all three indicators of healthy lives—mortality amenable to medical care, infant mortality, and healthy life expectancy at age 60."
Our flawed medical system has been an on-going political debate for years and most people are unsatisfied and disturbed by the rising costs and lack of quality care available. In terms of finance, the return of investment is extremely low. Spending over $8000 per year for a healthy life expectancy of 60 years old. That is what we currently offer through our healthcare. You are paying into a broken system that may offer longevity in your life, but certainly not quality. Now it is clear that our healthcare system needs to changed and continues to fail us, but elaborating upon that is exactly where people will stop reading because the magnitude is too great for an individual to feel as if change would occur from their actions. But I ask one simple question:
If the system we currently use offers us a healthy life expectancy of 60 years, costs too much for many people to afford, and ranks the lowest amongst 11 major nations in the world, then why do we still depend on it?
We need to change. We need to take control of our health and realize we can control outcomes and improve our quality of life through our own actions. Choosing to live an unhealthy lifestyle funnels us right into the system that simply prolongs life with no regard for how those years are spent, how much money is spent, or finding a solution and reversing the problem. Everyone wants to have options, make their own choice, and feel in control. You cannot control the healthcare system, but you can control your health. A majority of our health issues are reversible or preventable, which I will discuss in detail as the solution to this problem. However I understand the necessity for healthcare services and do not believe we have control over every outcome or situation life sends our way. Below are the reasons healthcare needs to be in place.
The healthcare system needs to function as a service for:
Genetic pre-dispositions to disease
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that our ability to control our health outcomes is very strong, but our perception differs completely. Wealth gives you better health coverage, but health coverage gives you a healthy life expectancy until age 60.
Leading to Solution #1 Preventing and Reversing Disease (Learn how to take control of your health)
Most people underestimate the control they have over their health and well-being. We assume many outcomes are pre-determined and act in a reactive manner rather than a proactive one. This leads to constant disregard for how we treat our body and our mind. We overlook what our body needs to optimally function and perform at the highest level. The ability to provide your body with the resources to combat sickness and maintain balance is essential to your quality of life. To create a more vivid picture of how the body functions I like to use this analogy:
The body can be looked at as a vehicle. When new, the vehicle has no problems and functions at a high level. It smells good, runs well, and requires little maintenance to operate. We provide it with fuel to move, similar to how we provide the body with food. As time passes, the vehicle begins to accumulate mileage and some wear and tear. Oil needs to be changed, tires replaced, and maybe a headlight or two. This keeps the vehicle functioning. In order to keep the vehicle for many years to come you need to be attentive to any issues that arise. You need to provide it with the best care on a consistent basis and avoid erosion and degradation. Both internally and externally, you need to invest in the vehicle to keep it performing optimally. This is how we need to treat our bodies. As young adults, most can get away with poor diet, no exercise and disregard their health. However, as time passes our vehicle, the body, begins to degrade. We become susceptible to sickness and develop many lingering issues that needed to be addressed years ago. Eventually, just as we do with most vehicles, we become less efficient, in need of extensive care, and finally are no longer suitable for the road. Though able to function, it is at the bare minimum. So I ask...
Do you want to be the vehicle that has sit in the driveway for 10 years and is waiting to be scrap metal or the classic car cruising along the coastline?
Now this all pertains to the facets of your health to which you have control over. You never have complete control. Just as a driver may wreck your vehicle, your body may be injured, develop a pre-determined hereditary disease, or suffer from a rare disorder. This cannot deter you from addressing the needs of your body to function and sustain a high quality of life for yourself. You cannot give up control to a healthcare system which is proving to fail you. Let it serve you for the uncontrollable aspects of your health and well-being. That mindset is the beginning to solving the issue of "Wealth over Health".
Now let's get into preventing and reversing disease...
The CDC releases a National Diabetes Statistic Report every year to inform the public about prevalence of the disease, impacts it may have on the affected and general knowledge regarding Type I and Type II Diabetes. In 2014, they reported that 29.1 million Americans have Diabetes, which is over 9% of the country. Out of the 29.1 million with Diabetes, 28.9 million were over the age of 20 or adults. Of those 28.9 million adults, 90-95% had Type II Diabetes or Adult on-set Diabetes. This shows that over 90% of Diabetics in America are developing the disease later in life. It is not a pre-determined or hereditary issue at hand. So there is the health aspect of the problem and here is the wealth aspect:
According to the Express Scripts 2014 Drug Trend Report, Diabetes ranked as the #1 most expensive medication based on their per-member-per-year metric. $97.68 is the highest spending amount for the 10 therapy class medications ranked in the report, which more than doubled the #2 class spending of $48.73 (high blood cholesterol).
The International Diabetes Federation reported in December 2002 that, “It is now evident that increasing the amount of physical activity we do, improving our diet, and losing weight if we are overweight can help prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes. This was demonstrated in the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) conducted in the USA (DPP Research Group, 2002), which assessed the effect of lifestyle intervention or taking metformin, a medication used to treat diabetes. In people taking the metformin, Type 2 diabetes was reduced by 31%, while for people participating in the lifestyle intervention program there was a reduction of 58%. Thus lifestyle intervention was shown to be the most effective way of reducing the incidence of Type 2 diabetes."
This was reported in 2002, yet the price and prevalence for Diabetes medication continues to rise along with the rise in diagnosis.
The CDC reported Diabetes Medical Costs for 2012:
$245 billion Estimated diabetes costs in the United States, 2012 Total (direct and indirect)
$176 billion Direct (After adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than people without diabetes.)
$69 billion Indirect (disability, work loss, premature death)
Evidence accompanied by solidified research has shown that Type II Diabetes is preventable and by all means reversible with the resources available. Our healthcare system should provide a lifestyle intervention protocol as the first line of treatment, but this is not the case. Pharmaceutical drugs will always surpass lifestyle change as one is profitable and the other is not. Fortunately, you have control over your lifestyle. You can control your diet, exercise, and weight management. These are powerful tools to prevent major medical issues that result from being diagnosed with Diabetes. Monitoring your sugar intake and being physically active can change your life with this disease. You save your money by getting off the medication and perhaps your life by simply taking control of your health.
The solution starts with the individual. Education and resources are available to everyone through websites, mobile apps, and many other media platforms. It is up to the individual to seek of information and understand how they can approach this problem.
The problem originates from our nutrition and lifestyle. Contrary to common belief, an upheaval of your current lifestyle doesn't need to take place for progress to be made. Exercise will induce tremendous health benefits with consistency. 4-5 times per week of 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise will change your life. We all have the time, but the reality of the situation is that we don't hold fitness as a high priority. Perhaps it is because we believe it is a superficial activity for our image, or too physically demanding, or simply not important to us. Whatever your reason may be, you can now understand the ramifications that develop over time through the lack of care for our body and health. Your nutrition functions in the same fashion. Eliminating or reducing certain foods along with adding in nutritious ones can drastically tip the scale in your favor. The example of Type II Diabetes shows it is quite evident that our health can be directly affected by our nutritional habits over time.
Your immune system is extremely powerful at maintaining an internal balance for your body. Providing it with the fuel to do so is essential to its functionality. Vitamin/mineral deficiencies and poor nutrition cause many preventable diseases and sickness to afflict your body. Control what you can and be proactive rather than reactive with your health.
Problem #2: The Prescription Drug Industry (The Cost of Being Unhealthy)
Medical advances have been a miracle for many people. They have saved lives and have given people the ability to live a quality life after devastating ailment and diagnosis. However, just as anything else in this country once something proves to be effective and demand grows, the capitalist aspect of society intervenes. The perception in America today is that prescription drug use is not only commonplace, but necessary once you reach a certain age. With any discomfort or sense of unease we reach out to our physician. This leads to him prescribing a drug to relieve us of our issue. This trend seems harmless and not of great concern, but in reality it is extremely alarming and detrimental to people everywhere. Here is the astounding number of people taking prescription drugs currently in the United States according to the Mayo Clinic:
"Nearly 70 percent of Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two, Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center researchers say. Antibiotics, antidepressants and painkilling opioids are most commonly prescribed, their study found. Twenty percent of patients are on five or more prescription medications, according to the findings, published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings"
Link to study: http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(13)00357-1/pdf
Detailed report describing prescription drug trends and prices:
The 2014 Drug Trend Report by The Express Scripts Lab
Now to say that 70% of Americans are in need of prescribed medication from a licensed physician seems quite exuberant in my opinion. We clearly have a health crisis on our hands, but I do not believe 70% of people in our nation need prescription drugs to solve their problems. Ultimately, the issue again lies within our social attitude towards nutrition, fitness, and health. You can claim that people are more likely to be sick or in need of medication, but the reality of the situation shows the prescription drug industry exploiting millions of people every day.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO): The global pharmaceuticals market is worth US$300 billion a year, a figure expected to rise to US$400 billion within three years. The 10 largest drugs companies control over one-third of this market, several with sales of more than US$10 billion a year and profit margins of about 30%. Six are based in the United States and four in Europe. It is predicted that North and South America, Europe and Japan will continue to account for a full 85% of the global pharmaceuticals market well into the 21st century. Companies currently spend one-third of all sales revenue on marketing their products - roughly twice what they spend on research and development.
Clearly the market is booming and projected to rise at an exponential rate in the coming years. The most concerning fact stated above is the ratio in which these mega companies spend on marketing products compared to the money spent on research and development. Twice the amount is spent on all those commercials listing every side effect known to man for a medication designed to improve your life. Perhaps a high quality product could come forth if more money were dedicated to quality control and purity of these medications. Instead billions of dollars are utilized to market to the masses. This is not unexpected since this industry like any other is geared towards profits. Sacrificing profits is the last tactic companies of this magnitude will choose. Though they are no stranger to taking major fines for misbranding and illegal promotion of their products. As stated prior, marketing is the core of their business and pushing the limits of their marketing behavior and outreach sometimes brings hefty fines and legal issues.
Link here to: Pharmaceutical industry gets high on fat profits by Robert Anderson BBC News
If willing to take millions and in some cases billions in fines, you can understand the amount of money funneling through this industry and how vital our consumption is to their net profits. We currently live in a hypocritical society that complains about healthcare prices and drug costs, but continue to avoid addressing the underlying issue. We are unhealthy. We consume poor nutrition. We rarely exercise. We disregard our body's well-being. We are dependent on the medical industry. We demand it and they supply it. As we all know business is based on supply and demand. Our demand is increasing drastically since we progressively have become more stagnant in nature and less aware of our health through the facade of over the counter and prescription medication. There is a reason 6 of the 10 largest pharmaceutical companies are located in the United States. We are their best and most loyal customers.
The real question I ask to anyone complaining about drug prices and medical costs is: What do you expect? Capitalist society promotes making money with no limit, no honesty and with no morals. Apple Inc. and Coca-Cola Inc. both have been through multiple lawsuits over child labor and workforce violations. Why? Because they want to make the most money possible regardless of ethics. Our drug companies are no different. They market to us, we buy their product, and we move on. The only difference is no one complains about Apple Inc. or Coca-Cola Inc. being too pricey or taking advantage of them. We all know those products are extremely overpriced and made for much less than they are sold. Mostly in foreign countries through outsourcing, but before I go into another tirade I digress.
We need to take ownership over our health and the industry, which continues to exploit people every day. Overcoming this can only occur through systematic change in our culture. The responsibility falls on everyone to care for their personal and family's health and through that choice change will develop. Investing in you and your family's health will pay the ultimate dividends in the long-term.
Solution #2: Your Health builds Your Wealth (How being healthy saves you money?)
Investing in your 401K is a necessary financial decision to plan for retirement and secure your future. However, if you find it vital to invest in your future financial security and well-being then you also understand the price of being unhealthy through medical costs. Here is an interesting statistic found during a Gallup Poll conducted in 2012 on Average Spending on Food Weekly:
"Americans report spending $151 on food per week on average. One in ten Americans say they spend $300 or more per week and, at the other extreme, 8% spend less than $50."
Link to Poll: http://www.gallup.com/poll/156416/americans-spend-151-week-food-high-income-180.aspx
A major deterrent for people trying to eat healthy is the concern of spending too much money. It simply does not fit in their budget. Well, according to self-reported data spending $151 per week on food shows the financial concern is clearly not as dire as we perceive. That is over $600 per month on food. You can buy a plethora of fresh produce, lean meats, and nutritious items to fulfill your dietary needs. So where do people spend their food budget? Majority of the money stems from going out to eat and spending large sums on one or two meals. This impacts the overall amount spent each week and results in a low quality of food choices for other meals throughout the week. The problem is solved through learning how to distribute the money you are willing to spend on food. Too many people do not plan their eating habits based on a budget. They fill their grocery cart with miscellaneous items and go from there. Even worse is the lack of planning meals. Many people stuff their pantry with items that lie dormant for weeks if not months. These are the items that sky-rocket a food budget and tend to lack nutritious value.
I find that the buying food based on meals you plan to make keeps you focused and direct with your purchases. You avoid snack foods and processed items, which add an unnecessary surplus in your kitchen. I would like to stress that I do not expect a person to avoid every tempting item in the store, but limiting your purchases of these items results in limiting your consumption. For example, your children eat what you purchase. If you want them to eat healthy and nutritious food you need to buy it. You are in control of the situation and need to lead by example if you expect them to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Another great tactic is to buy food for the week. It forces you to eat the items you bought and replenish them every week. Buying for long-term or stocking up leads to unnecessary purchases and low quality foods. So the premise of eating healthy as too great of an expense is clearly proven incorrect based on the data above.
I believe the major issue with people understanding the value of good health is the lack of short-term gain and obvious return. When most people think of increasing their wealth they see acquisition or gain. In reality, this concept can be approached from two ends. You can gain or retain. Retaining wealth is just as vital to reaching financial security. Here is an example of how investing in your health results in greater wealth:
Fiscally Conscious: Person (A) disregards their health and places a majority of their time into financial gain, career advancement and their retirement fund.
Health Conscious: Person (B) is aware of their health and provides their body with the necessary exercise and nutrition to perform optimally. They place less emphasis on their financial gain due to the stress that develops, but still have an adequate financial status and lifestyle.
As time passes, Person (A) begins to breakdown physically, emotionally, and psychologically from the stress of work and lack of nutrition and exercise over many years. Person (B) has sustained a high level of health, feels great, and manages stress very well from work.
Both Person (A) and Person (B) have reached retirement. Person (A) has developed many health issues over time from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar. They are placed on multiple prescription medications, have suffered a minor heart attack, and are at a high risk for stroke due to their poor health. Person (A) must spend a great deal of time, money and effort to address these issues and their precious retirement fund begins to dwindle. Their retirement dreams also vanish as their health concerns limit their ability to travel and experience high quality of life without the stress of work. The stress form work is replaced with stress from poor health. Person (B) is in good health. Their retirement fund, though significantly smaller than Person (A), provides them with the assets to live out their retirement dreams due to no need for major medical expenses or health limitations.
The question is: Who is wealthier in the end?
The answer is: Health is wealth. It provides you with independence and the ability to retain vast amounts of money from avoiding medical procedures and medications. Our society places extreme emphasis on the amount of money you have. It defines success and status. It also cannot replace good health. Though many people believe wealth solves everything, it does not. You can fix things with money in result of poor health, but it does not address the underlying issue and solves nothing in the long-term.
I do not believe sacrificing wealth completely for health and well-being. However, the small investment in your nutrition and fitness results in a much greater return than your slightly larger retirement fund. In the example above, I did not even elaborate on the quality of life Person (B) lives compared to Person (A) before retirement. Person (B) has higher energy, deals with stress more effectively, and creates a great example for their family to live by. Person (A) believes stress from work displays their work ethic, is lethargic outside the office, and lacks the ability to balance work and home life.
I understand my example is an extreme on both sides. Person (B) may struggle with certain aspects of life regardless of being health conscious and Person (A) may be stressed from work, but be great at turning it off outside of work. The point still remains that the health conscious person lives a higher quality of life. They do not need to sacrifice immense amounts of time or money to do so, but the investment grants them may advantages over Person (A) in the present and the future.
Speaking in absolutes irritates me and I am sure many who are reading this article feel the same. That is why I address the fact that this idea has many variables, but I completely stand by my point that investing in your health today leads to the same if not greater financial status than investing that same amount in your 401K and disregarding your health. Though most people disagree as seen by this study by Charles Schwab in August 2015:
Nearly 70% of participants saw excelling at work, knowing how much to save for retirement, and 401K investment choices as high or critical priority. However, fewer than 60% find that staying in shape or eating healthy is a high or critical priority. This gap is the issue. Wealth over health. This was not a ranking of each category of placing emphasis on one over another. This was an exclusive ranking 1-5 of priority and only 60% saw fitness and nutrition as important.
Understanding the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and diet are vital to implementation. Without your health you cannot utilize your wealth. Invest today in your health, avoid unnecessary medical expenses in the future and live a high quality of life for the rest of your life.
Problem #3: Perspective and Acceptance of our Current Lifestyle (How much do we value our Health?)
Convenience. The singular focus of nearly all technological advances in today's world. We function under the idea that easier is better. Technology permits a person to do less and get more. This concept is being exploited in our nation. We are dependent on things that didn't exist 20 years ago. We have lost our ability to take initiative and take control. With the amount of information cycling through the ether everyday most people justify everything they do with a website validation, so called "expert advice", or anything else you can find on the internet or scrolling through your Instagram account. The individuals who believe health and well-being is barely under your own control have created a convoluted perspective justifying our nation's deadly habits and lifestyle.
However, your health is not completely under your control. Implementing nutrition, fitness, and mindfulness cannot avoid all possible health issues, but they have been proven scientifically to lower your risk astronomically. Nothing is 100% in your control, but why wouldn't you improve your chances or probability of success? Especially when it comes to your health.
Here's an example of how our social behavior is advertised in a positive light to manipulate:
Ask yourself - How many overweight and unhealthy looking people have you seen in any fast food commercial?
You do not see any even though when you walk into a fast food place that is all you see. Now I am not saying everyone is unhealthy just because they eat fast food, but the premise is still there. We promote unhealthy behavior by advertising it as fun, happy, and trendy.
If being healthy made people money, we all would be. Unfortunately, the opposite exists. The unhealthy population continues to rise. Obesity, Type II diabetes, and many other self-induced health issues are increasing annually.
Technology has made us more accessible than ever before. Social behavior is influenced through so many outlets it becomes overwhelming and draining. This overwhelming feeling plays seamlessly into the technological advances we constantly experience. The over stimulation makes convenience appealing and desirable.
I am no stranger to this feeling. You wake up and realize you need to get to work soon and you chug a coffee and skip breakfast. Then lunch is takeout. Then the day has worn you down and you do not feel like making food so you grab fast food somewhere. Now do this five days a week since every work day for most people is redundant. Poor nutrition for 5 days a week or 20 days a month or 240 days a year. Using that concept, you are eating poorly for more than 2/3 of your year. That is a typical lifestyle of an American today. We eat just to get by. We eat to be full.
The saddest reality of our nation's current state is that most people are fully capable and have access to nutritious foods, but choose to disregard them. Exercise is a choice as well. Time cannot be a valid excuse. 30 minutes a day is available for anyone.
The true problem is the lack of ownership and accountability of people. Your health is under your control. As I stated above, information is everywhere nowadays. There are people out there promoting healthy lifestyles and proper nutrition/exercise. Leading me to:
Solution #3: Taking Action Now to Change the Future (The Cultural shift we need)
Nothing significant changes over night. Time is the vital resource needed to fuel the process. Education is essential to facilitating the implementation of proper nutrition and exercise into the youth of America. I understand our desire for an intelligent workforce, but a healthy one is just as important to the functionality and advancement of our society. We do not realize the impact poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and poor health has on work performance, daily life activity and cognitive function.