Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The high cost of living

Five people and a dog were rescued from Mt Hood in Oregon after trying to climb Oregon's highest mountain in the dead of winter. It serves as a reminder that there are so many small things that we could do to cut down the mortality rate. As a nation, we tend to get excited over dramatic mountain rescues. Well the easiest way (and the cheapest way) to save five people and their dog from freezing on a mountain is to tell them not to climb it, at least this time of year.

It is the same with disease. We spend millions trrying to fight aids and cancer, when many more people die of matters caused by or contributed to by obesity. Obesity is tough to fight, but it's easier to beat than cancer. No chemotherapy or radiation. You just exercise more and eat less.

The war has cost the United States over 3,000 lives. Each a tragedy and each, in this case, preventable. But where are we on the 50,000 traffic accidents every year ? 17 times the amount of Americans who have died in the entire Iraq war. This misplacement of priorities hit me once when I was defending some manufacturing concern who put some additive in some solution that somehow got into the air. It was a bad thing. A really bad thing. As I recall, from a medical standpoint, it added almost a full death per million to the morbity rolls (if you believe the actuarials). That's bad. But you know what ? We lose more people a year to peanut butter than that every year.. As I recall, water also caused greater morbitity. That's drinking it, not drowning in it (drowning is about 11 per million in this country which is an epidemic compared to some of the poisons in the atmosphere). More people die of heat related incidents, i.e., no air conditioning, each year than died in Hurricane Katrina. That strikes me as something that we can do something about. The fact of the matter is that all lives are priceless. The old woman who dies of a heat related illness has a life every bit as valuable as the young man who dies of aids. Yet the government may be contributing thousands of dollars toward his drugs each year. They could have saved the old lady for under $300, with a window unit.

I am not advocating that we stop research on cancer or other diseases (in fact we should increase funding for those age 54 and over) nor do I think that we should stop rescuing people and their dogs off of mountains. No matter how stupid they were to climb it. I just think that we need to wake up to things we can do almost immediatly, to save human lives, and focus our funding on where we can save the most. I'd start with cars. Anyone every designed a rubber car that would bounce and not crash in a collision ? Well, why the hell not ?

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