Being American Is Bad For Your Health

Well, so much for the charming old belief Asians respect even honor their elderly!

Japan's 72-year-old finance minister, Taro Aso, was quoted last week as saying, "We should hurry up and die." I'm exactly ten years older than Aso so you can understand why I take some exception to his advice. Of course, we've had a slew of pols in America who have said or implied the same thing. The idea being that a nation's future depends upon its rising youth, not its fading elders.

Let me put it this way. When I was a rising youth, that battlecry sounded just about right. Now that I'm a fading eider -- something you too, if you're lucky, will become -- the battlecry has an icy ring to it. Not that we old folks expect you young folks to hospice us in luxury till we're 100. Frankly, few of us see any great imperative in being tubed and wired indefinitely. However, we do have a problem with those social and political agendas that would stamp an official expiration date on us.

Which brings us to the debate over the quality of American healthcare. I love my doctors, but by most UN standards our healthcare system is doing a pretty poor job. When compared with 16 other advanced countries, the survey suggests that being American is bad for your health. We rank "near or at the bottom in frequency of death up to the age of 50."

But like all statistics, these have to be broken down to find out what they're really telling us.

Big surprise! The numbers tell us it's not always the system but us who's at fault. What...? Yep, partner, seems like American's proud cowboy tradition of riding tall in the saddle of rugged individualism has something to do with our death rates. In a recent Washington Post report, there are at least four I've-got-a-right-to-do-it-my-way habits that are killing us:

* Our passion for guns, fast cars, alcohol and drugs helps account for our record-high rate of homicides by the age of 50

* Our passion for freedom-of-choice diets rich in sugar, salt and fat is killing us off faster than most countries

* Our passion for unrestricted sex helps explain our high rate of teen pregnancies and children born into poor health and poverty

* Our passion for competition and being number one is a constant source of stress and stress related diseases

Recently some mayors have taken to lecturing even legislating rules of conduct that try to combat this American passion for doing-it-my-way. As expected, many object to having their drinks, guns or tobacco regulated. "It's not American!" they shout. However, damn few are shouting that as their unregulated ways lead so often to their early deaths.

I'm just old enough to know the deadly price that sometimes has to be paid for "doing it my way!" If you're still young, understanding that price may help you live long enough to be old.

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