Making America Healthy – Part II

December 6, 2009

In the second of a three-part series, David Coates discusses why we will not fully resolve our health care crisis until we choose to start living healthily again as individuals, as an economy, and as a society.

By David Coates

Healthy as an Economy

Why do we need fast food? We largely need fast food because we don’t have the time and energy to prepare food ourselves. That may be partly because of the need so many of us now seem to have acquired to watch American Idol,  and Monday night football, but it is mainly because we are all working such long hours for such poor pay. As Americans we work on average close to 2000 hours a year: that is, we now work at least 160 hours more than was common in the US at the end of the Vietnam War, and amazingly 400+ more hours than is currently the norm in Northern Europe. We do that in part because pay/hour has not risen for most working Americans (with the exception of a slight increase in the late 1990s) since the 1970s. In one generation we have transformed ourselves into a long-hours, low-wage economy with all the stresses on family life and personal health that such a mixture of work and pay entails. We have become two-income dependent for the maintenance of a modern life-style, and in the process we have lost more than time. We have lost skills – cooking skills. We have lost family meals, cooked and eaten at home. We have lost leisure. We have lost quality time together away from work. We have freed women from the drudgery of unpaid housework and loveless marriages only at the cost of doubling the female work load and pushing us all into a low quality food economy. We need a different economy as well as a different diet.

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2 Responses to “Making America Healthy – Part II”

  1. Deb Gorman said

    Indeed the combination of bad diet and stress is the cause of increasing obesity and chronic diseases. As for lifestyle, health care reform could relieve some economic pressure on families if it included a strong public option, so that health insurance were not tied to employment.

  2. Yes, Deb, I agree with you. I would add that health care reform can also help by encouraging wellness programs and preventive medicine, beginning to turn us from what we have now (a medical culture geared to managing sickness) into what we really need (a medical culture geared to the avoidance of sickness). But tightly-focused health care reform – though vital and extraordinarily difficult to get, as we are now seeing – is only part of the solution. Making us healthy also requires a serious assault on the social causes of sickness, not least an assault on poverty (as discussed in part III). True health care reform, that is, requires the implementation of the complete progressive agenda – and I just hope liberal policy-makers realize that. So often, conservative forces win out in this country by making even modest change so difficult that achieving it tires liberals out – it is very frustrating to watch!

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