HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Cutting Safety Net Sends Health Status Lower in U.S.

Posted on | May 8, 2018 | No Comments

Mike Magee

A Commonwealth Fund study in 2015 compared 13 nations on cost and quality. As most know by now, the U.S. finished near the bottom in quality measures and at the very top, by far, in cost. But the chart that drew my attention was the one above showing health expenditures vs. total spending on all other social services combined.

As you can see, the U.S. is the only nation that spends more on health care (by a margin of 2 to 1) than all of our other social spending combined. What are the consequences of such short-sightedness? Let me share just two from the news this week.

1. Nutrition:

In the U.S. we invest remarkably little taxpayer money on nutritional education. Instead we relegate that space to food and beverage companies in the name of free enterprise, and have convinced ourselves that their advertising has an educational component. So we should not be surprised that that latest obesity numbers are the worst ever.

Our overall obesity incidence in 2016 sits at 40%, up from 34% a decade ago. Extreme obesity has risen from 5.7% to 7.7% during the same time frame. The five worst states now have obesity rates greater than 35%

Obesity accounts for 18% of deaths and is the leading cause of death in the U.S. It is a contributor in 40,000 cancer deaths a year, and obese people are 2.5 times more likely to die of heart disease.

Other nations address obesity through national social services programs that emphasize nutrition education, local access to healthy foods, aggressive taxing of unhealthy foods, school programs focused on nutrition and exercise, and general public health campaigns.

2. Poverty:

The majority of Americans will now experience poverty some time in their lifetime. For those age 25 to 60, 62% will experience at least 1 year in the lowest 20% by income, and 42% will spend 1 year in the lowest 10% by income. Your chances of poverty increase if you are young, nonwhite, female, not married, have a high school education or less, or have a work disability.

Childhood poverty cost the nation $1.03 trillion or 5.4% of its GDP in 2015 by undercutting productivity, engaging in crime, or suffering poor health. For each $1 spent to ameliorate poverty, our nation would save $7 in the economic costs of poverty.

This week President Trump vowed to further compromise social spending levels approved by Congress in their 2018 budget agreement. As with all things Trump, members of his own party in Congress have remained mute.

They should take heed of Mark Rank’s recent New York Times editorial. He’s a professor of social welfare at Washington University, and wrote: “Instead of slashing an already weakened safety net, we should be following the example of most leading countries, which have built effective support systems that prevent poverty. By doing so, we would give our children a much better chance of reaching their full potential, which benefits us all.”

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