Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hobbesian conclusions of NRC panel

In Leviathon, Thomas Hobbes famously conjectured that life in the state of nature, with every man against every other, is "nasty, brutish, and short." A scientific report by a panel of the National Research Council, U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health, has concluded much the same thing about life in the U.S. in the 21st century.

From the report summary (bold from the original)
The panel was struck by the gravity of its findings. For many years, Americans have been dying at younger ages than people in almost all other high-income countries ... This disadvantage has been getting worse for three decades, especially among women. Not only are their lives shorter, but Americans also have a longstanding pattern of poorer health that is strikingly consistent and pervasive over the life course -- at birth, during childhood and adolescence, for young and middle-aged adults, and for older adults.
In almost every category you could imagine--infant health, injuries and homicides, sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, diabetes, heart disease--Americans suffered worse outcomes than most other developed countries, leading to especially high odds of dying before age 50.

Even worse, the reasons for these disparities are as unnecessary as they are tragic. The panel cited gaps in our health system (especially the lack of insurance), poor health behaviors (especially over-eating and drug abuse), accidents, violence (especially the availability of firearms), poverty, social immobility, and physical environments that discourage natural exercise. As the NRC panel states, "The tragedy is not that the United States is losing a contest with other countries, but that Americans are dying and suffering from illness and injury at rates that are demonstrably unnecessary."

Many of these gaps are addressable, but one party seems determined to widen, rather than close, nearly every addressable one. That party's fiercely professed "respect for life" is belied by a host of policies that promote death.