September 22, 2009

Untangling a knot

He did it with a sword. "Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot," by Jean-Simon Berthélemy (1743–1811)

When it comes to health and well being, there are a lot of issues to untangle. Obviously one is the lack of health care at all, which is a serious problem in the US and one that is getting worse in the wake of the recession. In yesterday's post, I linked a recent news item about a report that found that 45,000 Americans die prematurely each year because they don't have it.

Obviously, moving towards universal health care is way overdue. But there are some things about health and longevity that go beyond mere health coverage. As I've mentioned in the last several posts, status matters. People in higher social positions enjoy better health and longer lives than people in lower positions.

Typically, people try to explain this in terms of bad habits of people down the status scale, particularly among poor people, but this is missing a major point. According to Michael Marmot, author of The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects our Health and Longevity, two key factors are autonomy and social participation: conditions affect the degree of autonomy and control individuals have and their opportunities for full social engagement. These needs, for control and participation are more adequately met the higher your social position. As a result, health is better.


Lack of social participation and inadequate control over your life, in the sense of not being able to lead the life you want to lead, will lead to chronic stress, which in turn increases risk of a number of diseases, heart disease among them.

Marmot argues that this lack of control and full participation may lead to behaviors that are bad for health in the long term, but those things seem like small potatoes when one is just trying to get by in the short term.

ON THAT NOTE, here's another take on the link between health and social conditions.

RECESSION NATION. The latest Census data shows that the recession has had a major impact on Americans.

MEANWHILE, BACK ON THE PARANOID RANCH. Here's an interview between Bill Moyers and Max Blumenthal about today's rabid right and here's former religious right leader Frank Schaeffer on far right versions of politicized religion.

HOW WE GONNA KEEP HIM DOWN ON THE FARM NOW? Gazette reporter and uberblogger Ken Ward of Coal Tattoo fame was featured on NPR's Living on Earth.



Hollowdweller said...

I think you are onto something.

I believe the health care delivery system in many countries in Europe is responsible in large part for their superior public health staticstics compared to the US.

However along the lines of your post there I also wonder what impact greater environmental regulations, have, stuff like guaranteed sick and maternity leave, longer vacations a shorter workweek, and less sprawl(ie more walking-less driving) also play in the more favorable stats in other countries with a stronger social safety net and greater union strength.

El Cabrero said...

I think the bigger the economic gap gets, the bigger the health disparity effect kicks in.