Friday, April 2, 2010

Bad Lifestyle Habits

Count this as a follow-up to my last post, from the Smart Money website. Link here.

To quote the author, Peter Keating: "Of Americans 50 and older, 46% don't exercise at all....Sure we realize that a sedentary lifestyle, especially when coupled with bad eating habits, adds extra pounds. And that being overweight can lead to disabling diseases such as cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, diabetes, and even cancer. But for many years American could take comfort in the fact that the cost of neglecting our health were outweighed by the benefits of improving medical technology."

Here, Keating has clarified a point that I had been trying, less successfully, to make. The decision about whether to undertake an exercise regimen, for example, becomes part of an economic calculation. The more you are convinced that medical technology will take care of the unwanted side-effects of a sedentary life, and the more you know that you will have full access to that technology, the more likely you are to remain planted on your couch.

How then to get people to exercise more and to eat better? One way, as Keating argues, is to show them the misery that they will be inflicting on themselves and others as medical technology allows them to live longer, but with a far less satisfying lifestyle.

I suspect that another problem is the simple fact that there is much more money to be made by selling the latest in medical technology than there is in selling sneakers and gym memberships.

Health care is one of the growth areas of the national economy. How much economic activity depends on the fact that people who are ill or disabled must spend money on more medical care? What would happen to gross economic activity if large numbers of people adopted a more healthy lifestyle?


Anonymous said...

Here's what I'm trying to "get my head around":

When people lived much more active lives earlier in the last century, with less leisure time, no fast food, no TV, more walking and less "desk jobs", they dropped dead really young compared to now.

Of course, without treatments, cancer and heart disease ate them alive; along with no antibiotics....

Would a more active public with better habits lead to less overall incidence of cancers and heart disease?

I dunno.... I don't think anyone has ever actually showed that. Maybe you just end up with a population healthy enough to withstand more treatment for the diseases that used to kill people at a younger age.

Maybe better lifestyle habits in a population just leads to people who live longer with all the maladies that used to just kill us outright.

It's not an easy question.... I gotta go to the gym now. Personally, I love exercising.


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks, Gray.... we're all trying to get a grip on these issues.

As you say, if we compare now to a century ago, we have major improvements in antibiotics, surgical procedures, anesthesia... to say nothing of hygiene and sanitation.

And, of course, people today who live longer because of these scientific and industrial advances are also prone to develop more of the diseases that accompany aging.

As you know I am intrigued by the possibility that people do not exercise because they are persuaded that no matter what they get, medicine will save them.

Perhaps they have seen too many medical dramas on television and believe that physicians are great heroes, makers of miracles, capable of solving any problem that we can throw at them.

I am still pondering how much this mythicized version of medicine is inducing people to eat more and exercise less.

After all, if they get really sick because of it they can become the stars in a real-life medical drama.

Anonymous said...

Ah; I get your point: If a society "glamorizes" illnesses and doesn't value health and good habits, you get more sick people....

Probably so.