Health isn’t just a personal choice

A recent study underscores the fact that good health isn’t just a matter of personal choice for Americans.

  • Saturday, May 3, 2008 12:00am
  • Opinion

A recent study underscores the fact that good health isn’t just a matter of personal choice for Americans.

It’s tied – in some cases, painfully so – to income levels and geography.

Funded partly through Harvard University and the University of Washington and released this month, the study evaluated death rates across the U.S. by county, for each year between 1961 and 1999.

It gave researchers this wake-up call, and it should be giving us one too:

That the United States is increasingly populated by two very different groups – a wealthy class that has access to good health care, and a poorer class, which does not.

What did this lead researchers to conclude?

“The findings suggest that beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through 1999, those who were already disadvantaged did not benefit from the gains in life expectancy experienced by the advantaged, and some were even worse off.”

And they capped their results with this warning:

“The study emphasizes just how important it is to monitor health inequalities between different groups, in order to ensure that everyone – not just the well-off – can experience gains in life expectancy.”

King County actually did quite well in this study, with the third-highest increase in life expectancy in Washington.

But before we begin to pat ourselves on the back, we need to take a good look around us.

Good health costs money. It costs money to get a checkup; it costs money to eat well. Fat free isn’t free.

And for all of its affluence, King County has a high number of poor and working poor, the numbers of which are climbing. Since the years of this study (which ended in 1999) those numbers have continued to grow. In 2004 alone, the number of King County residents living in poverty jumped to 10.4 percent, up from 7.3 percent the previous year.

It’s a no-brainer that the first thing to go is preventative health care when you can’t pay your bills. By the same token, medications get rationed.

When it comes to solutions, there is no magic bullet here. But I can tell you, the first step to this problem is looking beyond the daily grind of our own lives, and considering the realities our neighbors must face.

The ones who don’t have jobs. The ones who are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet.

We’re not really healthy until they are, too.

Laura Pierce is editor of the Kent Reporter. She can be reached at 253-872-6677, ext. 5050, or by e-mail at lpierce@reporternewspapers.com