With 2021 coming to a close, the novel virus continues to overwhelm the country's health care system and devastate American's both healthy and unhealthy, as well as the vaccinated, unvaccinated. At this juncture of the pandemic, no demographic goes unscathed, it seems. We are all too aware of the ramifications and symptoms associated with contracting covid and other viruses with flu season in the mix. We know anyone can fall ill, especially those suffering from underlying health conditions, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems.
So, how is our country doing as far as its citizens' collective health status is concerned?
America currently ranks 27th in the world regarding health and educational outcomes. With this awareness at hand, it is no surprise so many people die every year from preventable diseases in this country.
According to the Public Health Association (2021), "The U.S. spends more on health care but has worse health outcomes than comparable countries around the globe. This holds true across age and income groups."
What's worse is there are inexcusable health disparities by race and culture in every county of the country (Public Health Association, 2021).
Based on the United Health Nations article on America's Health Rankings (2021), only one in three 4th grade students was at an acceptable reading level in 2019.
Below is a list of the top proficiency levels among 4th-grade students of different races in America.
Asian/ Pacific Islander children- 54.5%
White children- 44.4%
Hispanic children- 22.6%
American Indian/ Alaska Native- 19.8%
Black children- 17.6%
There is now scientific evidence that systemic disparities occur within Universities across the country (UNCF, 2021). Are the correlations between the health and education outcomes among the black demographic not shocking?
Dr. Richard B. Johnston, Jr of the University of Colorado School of Medicine and National Jewish Health (2019), states that poor health is predictive of poor education status. In other words, the lower one's educational level, the higher their chances are of becoming obese.
To full circle back to the pandemic, more than twice as many people died of heart disease than the novel virus in 2020. The majority of those who have also succumbed had underlying health issues such as heart disease. Can you guess which demographics suffered the most from covid? If you guessed those races were among the lowest in reading outcomes, you guessed correct. African Americans and American Indians are among those with the highest death rates in the country (APM Research Lab, 2021).
Why is America not focused on reducing the chances of its citizens developing chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes? Why is our government not interested in educating its minorities?
According to the CDC, "The COVID-19 pandemic caused approximately 345,000 deaths in the United States during 2020" (2021). Heart disease kills 690,000 people every year. Another fact is that heart disease deaths have increased by 32,000 people this year (Newsweek, 2021). Reviewing the facts, heart disease appears to be more of a concern as far as preventable illnesses are concerned.
So, what's the cause of America being undereducated and sick, resulting in many of us requiring a steady flow of pills to maintain our health and happiness?
In a nutshell, our diets are making us fat, sick, and depressed.
It is scientifically proven that when we have access to and consume more organic fruits and vegetables, we lower our cancer risk and increase life expectancy. So, why are so many Americans still eating fast food every day? Especially when the information is highly accessible on its leading to health consequences with regular consumption. Could it be our food system is designed to keep us insatiably desiring it?
The American diet comprises processed foods rich in calories but meager in vital nutrients such as vitamins D, C, E, K, and Bs, essential for producing energy. This results in obesity paired nutrient deficiencies that are so prevalent and commonly seen in the country.
In fact, over 73% of Americans are considered overweight, and 42% are considered obese as of 2018 (CDC, 2021). That means almost half of our country is obese, and almost 3 in 4 are overweight.
The health consequences of obesity are cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, as well as 12 different types of cancers.
With this understanding, can you imagine the number of people in this country requiring medications to mitigate these associated illnesses? As of 2021, 860 million drugs are prescribed every year in the U.S. (CDC, 2021). The top medications prescribed are analgesics, antihyperlipidemic agents, and antidepressants (CDC, 2021).
Americans are overprescribed pharmaceutical medications every year for diseases that could be prevented through diet and lifestyle changes. Some lifestyle changes that are scientifically proven to reduce cancer development are regular daily exercise, nutrition education and utilization, and not smoking or drinking alcohol. Nature immersion, stress, management techniques like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and connecting with like-minded individuals who inspire and motivate you to positive change are also beneficial.
And therein lies the solution to America's current health status- we educate individuals, especially minorities, on the importance of nutrition for an improved healthy lifestyle and a lowered risk of mental health consequences.
The key really is education, and after we unlock that door, our choices will determine the future of our health and country. And at least with education, we have a choice.
According to an article by Georgetown University (n.d.), if funding for post-secondary education increased by adding 20 million workers to the education system, wage disparities would decrease. There would be a shift towards equity in education and pay. With more knowledge and income, there will be an increase in healthier nutrition and educational outcomes.
By increasing funding for public health corporations, we advance a person's potential to make healthier choices by educating, supporting, and helping individuals struggling with health disparities.
These are only some ways we can work to increase this great country's health and wellness. To get there, we need to work together to bridge the gap of inequity in America.