What Do We Really Know About Our Health And Disease?

The health and disease literacies of Americans is dismal. Despite this, Americans still feel compelled to spend hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to fight diseases that are not among the top ten most common in the U.S., many of which are not even contagious. For example, many Americans believe that diabetes is contagious and that it is curable. The reality, however, is that it is not curable in most cases.

Despite what it says on the box and a good amount of research that it seems, Americans are still ignorant about the actual health of many other countries in the world. They know the health status of other countries, but only if they have traveled, have visited and have heard of it in lectures or through studies done at universities or government funded or sponsored research.

The top ten nations in the U.S., according to Gallup polls, are the same ten nations that have most of us believing that we are among the top ten countries in the world. When Americans think about the health of other countries that have not been listed as one of the top ten nations in the world, there are many countries that they have little knowledge of. For example, in the United States that we see as a nation that has the highest rate of diabetes in the Americas, only 3% of Americans know that all people with diabetes are obese! And many don’t bother to look at what are normal blood sugar levels for those who are not diabetic.

Most Americans do not know that more than half of Nigerians over the age of 5 have no health insurance. It is not that they don’t need health coverage, they just don’t consider it worthy of their income and are happy with their meager, bare bones health care that could have been paid for with a job. While Americans spend hundreds of billions of public and private dollars on fighting the diseases that do not even reach epidemic levels in the United States, they spend many billions more to fight diseases that have become the number one killer of Americans.

When Americans do spend money on combating diseases that may not be as prevalent in the United States, they spend most of the money on prescription drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There are now more prescription medications that were prescribed in 2006 than were used in total health care worldwide that year. The FDA approved just 30 of these medicines. 

  The cost of all of this unnecessary and wasteful medical care is so much that it is a major drain on the pockets of the American taxpayers. In 2007, America’s health care system spent $731 billion that year. That number has grown over the years and, according to statistics from Health Affairs, it will reach $1.05 trillion in 2019.

Most Americans who would be interested in learning more statistics on health care costs were probably already aware that the rate of American obesity rose steadily, from 35.1% in 1970 to over 35% in 2012, according to research from American Medical Association. Although in 2007, the last year for which data was available, the rate of fat among American women dropped to its lowest levels since 1980. Most Americans, however, still fail to learn that, in 1960, American men were only 11% fat.

When Americans become more informed about our health, they are more likely to do things like exercise more (most Americans only exercise three times per week or less). For the first time in history, more than half of Americans say that they did not try to lose a single pound in the last year. The reality is that most Americans would like to lose weight but are having trouble doing so and, consequently, they are spending more money on expensive and ineffective weight loss medications.

America’s health care system has not gotten the message of the need to improve. As American consumers pay more for health insurance, we must wonder why they are getting sick at such high rates. According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the cost of treating all conditions in the United States has increased an astounding 19% over a decade.

The United States remains in the same position as it was when Gallup asked their people in 2007 and 2010, the previous years for which data are available:

Americans still believe that, if they feel well, any illness is a result of “bad luck” and “bad diet.” Although the number of obese Americans is down (from 36% in 1970 to under 30% now), the vast majority of us continue to be affected by diseases like type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular events and asthma.

Americans have not gotten the message that we must learn how to care for our health if we want to improve our lives.