Monday, August 24, 2009

From Joe's Vault: 'Great' American Health Care System Isn't Cutting It On Life Span

By Manifesto Joe

Since health stats seem to be a hot topic now, it looks like a good time to dredge up a post from a couple of years ago. This was published on this blog Aug. 12, 2007.

This just in -- the U.S. is now ranked 42nd among the world's nations in life span. How can this be happening in a country that spends so much on medicine, the most worldwide per capita? It's a paradox: When it comes to insurance, less isn't more; but when it comes to medication, less can indeed be more. And, we need news media that will actually report on the problem rather than essentially shill for the medical/drug establishment.

To get the stats out of the way, this is from the Associated Press report:

Countries that surpass the U.S. include Japan and most of Europe, as well as Jordan, Guam and the Cayman Islands. ...

A baby born in the United States in 2004 will live an average of 77.9 years. That life expectancy ranks 42nd, down from 11th two decades earlier, according to international numbers provided by the Census Bureau and domestic numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Andorra, a tiny country ... between France and Spain, had the longest life expectancy, at 83.5 years ... It was followed by Japan, Macau, San Marino and Singapore. ...

Researchers said several factors have contributed to the United States falling behind other industrialized nations. A major one is that 45 million Americans lack health insurance, while Canada and many European countries have universal health care, they say.

OK, so far, so good. At least someone is observing that the number of uninsured Americans may have a lot to do with this. But wait, there's more. This Mainstream Media report lapses into whitewash and absurdity.

But "it's not as simple as saying we don't have national health insurance," said Sam Harper, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Montreal. "It's not that easy."

Among the other factors:

• Adults in the United States have one of the highest obesity rates in the world. Nearly a third of U.S. adults 20 years and older are obese, while about two-thirds are overweight, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

"The U.S. has the resources that allow people to get fat and lazy," said Paul Terry, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. "We have the luxury of choosing a bad lifestyle as opposed to having one imposed on us by hard times."

• Racial disparities. Black Americans have an average life expectancy of 73.3 years, five years shorter than white Americans.

Black American males have a life expectancy of 69.8 years, slightly longer than the averages for Iran and Syria and slightly shorter than in Nicaragua and Morocco.

• A relatively high percentage of babies born in the U.S. die before their first birthday, compared with other industrialized nations.

Forty countries, including Cuba, Taiwan and most of Europe had lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. in 2004. The U.S. rate was 6.8 deaths for every 1,000 live births. It was 13.7 for Black Americans, the same as Saudi Arabia.

"It really reflects the social conditions in which African American women grow up and have children," said Dr. Marie C. McCormick, professor of maternal and child health at the Harvard School of Public Health. "We haven't done anything to eliminate those disparities."

Most of the above displays an astonishing lack of critical thinking by this MSM reporter, or perhaps by editors who got hold of the piece later. The story attempts to drive some wedge between the absence of universal coverage in the U.S. and (1) racial disparities, and (2) infant mortality. A national health insurance system would do a vast amount to address these two problems. Our current system is the precise reason why many minorities do not or cannot get adequate care, when they are either old or newborn. It's the lack of insurance, stupid.

The passage points out that Cuba and most European countries have lower infant mortality rates than the U.S. Guess what those countries have that we don't.

Obesity is certainly a problem in America, and one for which individuals can largely be blamed. Or can they? As decades of my life have passed, I have witnessed a socially irresponsible advertising culture that graduated from making people into two-pack-a-day cigarette addicts into junk-food junkies who wash it all down with sugary soft drinks. If one ate a steady diet of what one sees every day on TV ads, billboards, and in the urban sprawl of any given U.S. city, it's the superhighway to diabetes and heart disease.

A thing I find quite revealing and disturbing is that although the Japanese smoke twice as much as Americans -- they light up the way we did in the '60s, back when my childhood senses were ablaze with TV cigarette commercials -- they don't have nearly as much heart disease as we do, and they're living longer than us. A simple observation is that they don't have quite the same advertising culture as we do, and so they're more likely to eat fish, tofu and veggies than a bacon cheeseburger. A decent diet can actually compensate some for other kinds of vices.

Something else to consider is that, for the poor in America, a good diet is actually hard to afford. It's cheap for our poor and working class to consume a lot of starch and sugar. Even the simplest staple items like rice and pasta -- not good for diabetics -- are much cheaper than the more healthful choices. We've had a reversal of roles between rich and poor in modern America: In the bad old days, the poor were skinny because they went hungry, and the rich were plump because they had all they could eat. Now the poor eat, but it's the wrong foods, sold cheap. The rich can afford the sauteed vegetables and the catch of the day.

But, I'm recalling that Emory University professor's remarks about Americans being so soft, not having a tough lifestyle imposed on them by adversity. This seems like an absurd contradiction as well. During hard times, people have trouble eating -- at all. Good food, or bad. And life spans were much shorter then. Something tells me the professor hasn't missed many meals.

Now for an unintended consequence of living in an "affluent" society -- affluent for some, anyway. The U.S. is the most overmedicated nation ever. Our "health care system" is largely driven by the pharmaceutical companies' greed, and they are hooking people on meds every day with the same foresight and scruples as the corner dope dealer.

Statin drugs are being pushed as though half the adult population should be on them. They may do a lot for people with severe cholesterol problems, but they can have very serious side effects. I have known a number of people who have given them up, despite warnings, because they complained that they always felt like they had the flu. My mother passed out and had to be hospitalized after three days on Zocor. I took Lipitor for three days, and I think my supervisor at work suspected that I was drunk.

I have been hospitalized twice in recent years after having adverse reactions to medications. Doctors who aren't into this dope craze describe patients coming to them looking pale and wan. And wait, there's more, from a site called Health and DNA:

ADRs are the fourth to sixth greatest killer in US with more than 100,000 deaths per year; and 2.2 million serious adverse reactions per year according to a 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association report. (JAMA 279:1200 1998) This study is a meta analysis of 39 research reports published from 1966 to 1996.

21.3% of the 548 most recently FDA approved medications were subsequently withdrawn from the market or given a black box warning. JAMA 287:2215 2002
The GAO reports that 51% of new drugs have serious, undetected adverse effects at the time of approval.

Of the best selling prescription drugs, 148 can cause depression, 133 hallucinations or psychoses, 105 constipation, 76 dementia, 27 insomnia and 36 parkinsonism. "Worst Pills Best Pills: A Consumers Guide to Avoiding Drug-Induced Death or Illness," third edition, 1999.

I know from the experience of being overmedicated that it's hard some days just to get out of bed under those conditions, let alone get one's regular exercise for general health and weight control.

I have yet to see Michael Moore's Sicko, but I anticipate seeing it this week. It shouldn't be hard for him to win me over. This "health care system," coupled with a predatory advertising culture, looks likely to make either my generation or the next one the first to have a lower life expectancy than our parents had. As my fellow baby boomers age and become more dependent on this broken system to get decent and well-considered care, this is clearly one of the crucial battles that Americans must win.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Anonymous said...

I am going to throw you a bone for once, Joe. You were right about something, and the facts back you up. I frequently think I smell a rat when I read your posts, and a familar stench wafted by when I read your warning about statin side effects. So, as is normal for me, I looked it up. You get to be right...this time. (But I am watching you.)
See? I do not have to disagree with everything you say, just the things you are wrong about.
That being said, a mention of self responsibility would be nice from time to time. A hour of walking a day by all Americans would save the wealthiest 1%, who carry the water for the poor, BILLIONS in IRS confiscations used to prop them up medically for disease caused by their excesses.
Also, a home economics class is in order, I believe. Fresh produce and inexpensive, healthy ingredients are no more expensive than the highly processed salt and sugar laden prepared foods consumed by fatty. That includes fish, whole grains, and unbelieveably cheap poultry. Even at full retail, a whole chicken is about $5 or $6. Have you ever thought what a great deal that is? You can buy an entire animal that will feed a hungry family for about $1 a pound, and it is already killed, plucked, dressed, refrigerated, transported by truck to a warehouse and then to you grocer, and displayed in a sanitary water-tight bag for your cheap-ass, nutritious protein source shopping pleasure. Fantastic food can be startlingly cheap, but you have to cook it yourself. Otherwise, you can order your poision at the drive thru off the dollar menu.
But remember as the wise Gov. Huckabee said after famously losing over 100 pounds, "If it comes through a car window, it isn't food."
Side note: My "word verification" required to post a comment on this blog is "trator." How fitting!

Jack Jodell said...

Thanks for the reprint, Manifesto Joe. The info in it is still totally relevant. We do NOT have the best health care in the world. The "socialized medicine" countries outperform us in health care in nearly all categories. What we have here is the most EXPENSIVE health care, not the best.

As for obesity, just look at the vast amounts of sugar, corn syrup, and corn starch found in all the cereals, snacks, and processed food we eat today, which makes up most of our diet. Just read the ingredients on the vast array of processed foods we now eat that we didn't used to. And we eat out as never before, which means fried foods and lots of butter we're ingesting. Up until age 35 or so, I was a string bean in the 135-140 pound range where I had been since about 17. Today, a mere 20 years later, I'm over 200. Big agra and big business has helped screw stuff up agauin. We're being poisoned by our own food manufacturers!

Manifesto Joe said...

Anon, how long has it been since you went grocery shopping? Go in a Wal-Mart, one of those "superstores," and what you will find, mostly, is processed food at relatively cheap prices. It's possible to eat healthy shopping there, but not easy -- you have to take the time to read every label.

Then, go in a store that specializes in healthful foods, say, Whole Foods. If you buy items comparable to what you would have purchased at Wal-Mart, your bill will be significantly higher, I guarantee it.

When you bring up the example of a whole chicken, that's one item among several that it takes to compose a balanced diet. If you look at it in the aggregate, it is indeed more expensive to eat healthy than it is to eat processed food from Wal-Mart. Forget about drive-throughs -- the genuinely poor usually can't afford them unless it's the 99-cent menu.

I'd say you could benefit from an up-to-date course in home ec yourself. And -- just when it seemed like you were going to disagree in a civil manner, here's your final line, about your verification word. Just couldn't resist, eh?

You folks on the far right wing need to learn that being a patriot isn't the same thing as being a brown-noser for the establishment. There are people like you in every country on Earth, and you're always trying to be on the side that's winning. In China, you'd probably be a superloyal CP member. Me, I'd probably be in jail or dead. I'll give this country credit for that much freedom, and I hope it lasts, no thanks to the likes of you.

Manifesto Joe said...

One more comment re healthy vs. unhealthy food. Go in a Wal-Mart "superstore" some time and try to find things like affordable fresh fish, fresh produce (from Wal-Mart, it rots in the fridge within days) or even real cheese, as opposed to processed cheese food. They've got plenty of Velveeta. Try finding real Swiss cheese, even slices, at a Wal-Mart. Some may have it; many don't. I don't know what planet you're living on, but it doesn't appear to be this one.

Manifesto Joe said...

And, here's a link:

Tyndall Wildleek said...

Dear Joe,

I empathize with you about medications and their side effects. Several years ago VA installed two stints in my heart because of blockage. I’m a Nam Vet and had never been to the VA before, but it was a time in my life I was down financially and not covered by any health insurance. Were it not for the socialized medical care provided for all veterans I would have died.

The doctors were excellent, top in their field, and they took care of me right away. They prevented me from having a major heart attack. Since that time I have been under their care and have never had a problem with service or care.

Sometimes, it takes months to get an appointment with a non-emergent clinic and you have to wait for hours in waiting rooms, but for the price I’m not complaining. I take a book or my lap top and work while I wait. If I have an emergency, I can go to their emergency clinic and be seen within minutes.

They told me I would have to take heart medications for the rest of my life and gave me four to take. One was Simvastatin. The others were Plavix, Lisinopril, and Metroprolol. For two years I was depressed and gained weight because I couldn’t exercise or manage to eat property because of the toxic combination of chemicals.

I began to have all kinds of joint and muscle problems. I first noticed the Simvastatin was causing me to have horrible dreams and flashbacks to my days in Nam I hadn’t experienced in years. I would wake up screaming and frighten my family.

I began to lose my memory. I write speculative fiction as a hobby and it got so bad I couldn’t remember plots or character’s names. I couldn’t remember my address, phone number or driver’s license number. Since my dad developed Alzheimer’s, I thought I must be coming down with it, until I read this article:
Wonder drug that stole my memory:

In early January I attended a meeting about heart meds at a “common sense” meeting in a larger town near me and gained some insight into living and dealing with these chemicals. As a result, I only take my heart meds twice a week. Most of my complaints of gout, joint pains and muscle aches are no more. I cut out all ‘statin’ medication and in six months regained most of my memory and mental facility to call up information.

As a replacement I’ve been on oatmeal therapy and eating foods suggested as heart healthy. I try to stay away from red meat and foods high in purines. As suggested, I took up walking but when I began, could barely walk to the mail box and back. After eight months I walk three miles a day and not just slowly. I set a brisk pace and walk it within just under an hour.

I’ve lost the thirty pounds I gained and look better than I did ten years ago. Attended my fiftieth high school reunion and was the best looking one there. (Or so I was told) The last check up with VA, including a treadmill exam, I was better than I have been in years. My blood pressure was normal and my cholesterol count was well below acceptable levels.

My point in all this is, even the VA doctors are so influenced by big pharma companies they heavily push these medications on people without realizing the long term side effects. I would never advocate anyone stop taking their medications “cold turkey” but would encourage anyone to become an active and informed consumer about what they’re putting into their bodies. My second point is, the VA is an excellent organization, but the Bush administration made drastic cuts in funding, trying to kill a worthy and successful health program for veterans. Medicare and VA prove public health options work. We must have health care for everyone with a single pay public option.

Oh, and by the way, Gov. Huckabee just happens to be a relative of mine. I wouldn’t vote for him for dog catcher of our county. I’ve known him all his life, and he’s a lying charlatan.

T. Wildleek

Anonymous said...

Home Ec, first day lesson: Walmart is not a grocery store. You cannot even buy beef there that is not steeped in a chemical bath. The label will say "contains up to 12% "solution." WTF?
I love messing with you because you always take the bait, but I do not want you to kill yourself with food. Hell, you only have one vote to screw off anyway. So do yourself a favor and buy your groceries in a grocery store. Try to avoid the aisles and shop from the perimeter when the fresh food is kept. If you are not used to shopping healthy, it will take some training. See a dietician if you can or study up online, but don't tell me you are a slave to processed food. That is weak and lazy. You know I am right. If you do not want to make the commitment because of it requires too much commitment, just say so. You will have a lot of company. But don't blame Walmart.
I am boycotting them anyway because they pulled advertising from Glenn Beck.

BTW, the verification word is "flatin."

Anonymous said...

A couple of more things to address your shopping woes: you can buy perfectly healthy and tasty veggies and fish in the frozen section. All fish delivered to the fresh seafood counter comes in frozen with almost no exception. But again, buy whole foods, not the peas in the Giant's "Butter Sauce'" Just the peas. Same for fish. Also, if you go to a warehouse store, most fish is sold in big bags with individually vac-packed portions inside.

Code word: toxity

Manifesto Joe said...

Anon, I'm going to respond to you once more, and only once.

Wal-Mart would be surprised to hear that they're not a grocery store. They entered that market after many years as a dry-goods retailer, but where I live, they're now No. 1. Part of the reason is night workers like me. It's hard to avoid them, because everybody else gave up on the 24-hr. gig and gave it entirely to them. They've eaten everybody's lunch. Even with that said, we tend to use them mainly as a "basics" source, as it is hard to screw up whole-grain bread and cereal, eggs, bananas, blueberries, potatoes and skim milk. I wish a good supermarket chain like H-E-B would come here, but they seem reluctant to expand further.

A basic problem here is that you don't seem to be even reading my replies; or if you are, then you distort them incredibly, and presume a vast amount, as I have noticed most right-wingers are apt to do with all things, like your demagogue hero Glenn Beck.

Anon (from Temple, I believe): Your ass is BANNED from this site. There's an old saying that one should not argue with fools, lest you be mistaken for one yourself. I'm applying that bit of wisdom RIGHT NOW. Your comments will be deleted unread.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Tyndall:

I'm what I suppose could be called a "cholesterol skeptic." My blood fats are high (but my "good" cholesterol is also high). A few years ago I had an episode that turned out to be a drug reaction, but they did an angiogram on me just to be safe. They found 20-30% plaque in 2 or 3 places -- nothing unusual for a middle-aged man. I have no sign of blockages to this day.

There are people who have low blood fats and yet still have heart disease. And then, my wife has an aunt who has had cholesterol peak over 500 in her life, and she quit taking statins because of the nasty side effects.

She will be 84 in October.

Manifesto Joe said...

BTW, last time, Anon from Temple:

Reading between the lines, something tells me that you are a social parasite, living off someone who's the big breadwinner. That's why you have so much fucking time to peruse the "grocery stores." Who's making your living for you, Anon? I'm the main breadwinner around here. I'd bet a tidy sum that you're not.

Marc McDonald said...

>>>I am boycotting them anyway
>>>because they pulled advertising
>>>from Glenn Beck.

They did? Hell, I may start shopping there, solely for that reason. I applaud their refusal to run ads on that Nazi asswipe's program.