(I’m writing this post under the influence of much cold medicine. This head cold is really chewing on my brain. It is also nearly the darkest night of the year, which may also hue this post’s mood.)
I’d like to raise a topic for discussion, namely: why is American society breaking away from the rest of the developed world in major ways?
I’m not referring to recent foreign policy changes or to Trump, nor to school shootings or Silicon Valley’s latest scandal, but instead to how our social patterns have recently changed in some fundamental ways. That may sound abstract, but it is is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
There are two key and related points. While the rest of the developed world is experiencing longer lifespans, and has been for decades, Americans are now seeing shorter lifespans and relatively higher infant mortality. The lifespan drop is perhaps most dramatically seen in the white population, while infant morality hits black families and poor ones in general the hardest. At the same time, and to a degree related, American suicide rates are climbing, while they fall all over the world, in developed as well as developing nations.
What is driving American society into such a dark track?
I’ll put out some causes that arise in the literature, then turn it over to you for your thoughts.
America’s health care financial system – alone among developed nations, the balance of this nation’s medical care is funded privately, through employer-paid insurance as well as individual out of pocket expenses. Not only are poor people more likely to suffer bad health issues without care (see preceding) but working people into the middle class can face challenges affording or even accessing health care.
Anti-black racism – note the relatively higher infant and overall mortality rates suffered by black Americans.
The American diet – we may eat too much and too badly, although the science and politics of such assessments are controversial. Food deserts may encourage some Americans to eat junk food. Poverty can keep people from eating healthier and more expensive foods. Obesity is a known cause of type II diabetes, which the CDC identified as rising. High amounts of fats, too much corn oil, portions grown immense, and other reasons even make America’s Godzilla too, ah, big-boned.
The war on terror – America continues to wage an intercontinental struggle. Veterans are more likely than civilians to attempt suicide. Additionally, it is arguable that some of the resources devoted to the war could have been allocated to public health.
Higher poverty rates – although America is enormously wealthy by many measures, the nation also has very high rates of people living in poverty, depending on definitions. Poor people are more likely to suffer health problems than their wealthier neighbors.
The opioid epidemic – it’s pushing suicide rates up.
An epidemic of accidents – recall that “unintentional injuries” are the CDC’s third leading cause of death. I’m still not sure what falls under this category. Workplace accidents? Traffic fatalities? Are people with challenges accessing health care more likely to die before treatment? Is this related to our aging populace, with more frail seniors more likely to die as a result of accidents? How many other causes are disguised under this header, such as suicides (someone “accidentally” drinks too much and falls asleep on a park bench during a subzero temperature night)?
The war on drugs – how many deaths are caused by the many ways Prohibition 2.0 takes lives, from unregulated substances to inter-gang violence?
I have other questions about where these trends may be taking us, but first I’d like to get a better handle on causes.