Hardly anything is more personal than health. Clear for decades to those paying attention, however, is a community stake in individual health, which has become more obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It wouldn’t be much of an overreach to argue personal health, aggregated as the country’s health, is a matter of national security. General ill health might be this country’s greatest weakness.
The United States is weaker now than it has been in recent history. The federal budget deficit is projected to reach $4.2 trillion this year, up from about $988 billion in 2018. The country is awash in debt; the highest levels since just after World War II; 40 percent of which is owed to foreign governments.
Millions are unemployed and face losing their homes, through eviction or foreclosure, unless the economy improves dramatically soon.
Civil rights that define the country, and for which we’ve spilled a lot a blood over 244 years, have been curtailed and our democratic institutions and practices threatened.
It’s an open question, for example, whether Americans will be allowed to assemble at polling places on Election Day in November to vote. Let that one cook for a minute — be allowed to vote in person.
Not all of this can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. The country had been running deficits and amassing debt at near-unprecedented levels well before the virus arrived. Nor are we in a hole impossible to escape. The vast power of the U.S. economy has pulled us from deeper pits.
Obviously, though, bringing the economy to an abrupt halt in effort to slow the virus’ spread, and throwing the treasury open to buffer the consequences of that, made the situation much worse.
That’s no criticism of the government subsidies. There was no alternative but attempting to stay afloat with public money.
We’re obliged, however, to take a cold, hard look at how we got here.
There’s no doubt the coronavirus causing COVID-19 is dangerous; almost 70,000 Americans had died from it by Monday.
It’s also pretty well established that nearly all the deaths and hospitalizations from COVID-19 were among people with chronic health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Almost 90 percent of the people hospitalized in New York suffered from more than one of those, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Age, of course, also is among the factors that can make COVID-19 a more serious threat to life, but chronic health conditions might put people even more at risk than age alone.
Almost half, 46 percent, of adult Americans have high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
More than 30 million Americans, 9.4 percent of the population, have diabetes; the vast majority of those have Type 2, which develops at least in part because of lifestyle choices, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another 84.1 million have “prediabetes,” a condition that often leads to Type 2 diabetes.
Almost 40 percent of Americans 20 years and older were obese in 2016, according to the CDC.
Nobody knows these numbers better than health care professionals, who have been warning us about the trends for decades. And knowing that could not but have influenced their recommendations about how the country should respond to COVID-19 to prevent overwhelming hospitals and wholesale death.
It’s also well known that all those health conditions are attributable in part, perhaps mostly, to overeating, generally bad eating and sedentary lifestyles.
We as a nation, and more importantly, we as individuals, must begin to heed the warnings about unhealthy living leading to chronic maladies.
The government, perhaps, should offer tax breaks to people who work at staying healthy. Doing that would be cheaper than managing the consequences of self-inflicted ill health, which are considerable even when there’s no pandemic.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to each of us maintain his own health.
If we can’t manage it for ourselves and our families, perhaps we could do it for the nation; begin to think of it as an act of patriotism.
• Michael A. Smith