Last night I watched part one of Unnatural causes… is inequality making us sick? on PBS. The premise of the series is that economic status + education is the single biggest determinant of health in America. This is not controversial as it is well known that life expectancy is tightly correlated with social class in stratified nations and with income in the US. What was remarkable was to see the data presented side by side with very personal stories of how poverty creates health problems which are beyond the control of individuals.
My point in bringing this up is not to belabor the premise of the documentary but to point out that there are very reasonable things that could and should be done to reverse this problem. A national health care solution would be an obvious way to help huge swaths of the population but it is not a solution to the problem (don’t misinterpret me here though, it is vital that we provide health care for everyone in such a way that it does not influence their economic outlook). The solution starts with reducing economic disparity and increasing education access. As discussed in the documentary, European nations have implemented these types of programs with great success and have seen improvements in dissociating class from health to the benefit of the entire population.
So what to do here in America?
First, vote with some degree of knowledge about what your vote actually does for you. As Physioprof and many others have discussed over and over again, the vast majority of Republican Americans vote in a way that is in direct opposition to their economic interests. Hopefully the escipades of GWB and friends have knocked some sense into many voters who have been duped by the evangelical Republican strategies.
Second, increase access to education. Obviously, government can and should play a big role in this, but what about those of us (probably most of my potential readers) working within the educational structure? Many of us likely work at institutions with endowments that are growing at an astonishing rate. Rather than sitting on this fortune, universities should take a serious look (and we should encourage them through our activities) at releasing students from the economic burden of tuition. Several major universities are in the process of doing just this but the commitment is, in most cases, still too small.
It so happens that my institution is considering tuition wavers for all in-state (its public) students. To my astonishment, many in the university structure are opposed to this proposition. Why? The argument I hear most often is that it devalues education — students only really appreciate it if they have to pay for it. To that I say, WTF! So, I’m gonna start fighting to support this proposition and my angle is going to be health disparities (and we’ve got a serious problem with health disparities in this here Western state). I hope to chronicle my activities in this project here on this little blog from time to time and I urge those of you with like mind to get involved where you can.