In time for trick-or-treating, the American Heart Association put out a holiday listicle: “5 scary facts to scare you this Halloween.”
Here are the scary facts:
1. Most Americans spend more time in the kitchen than the gym.
Adults should get at least least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, and we should have at least two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity. In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculated that less than a quarter of us were making the grade.
2. Vaping among teenagers has soared.
In 2011, only 1.5% of high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. By 2018 the number had risen to 20.8%.
E-cigarettes contain the same addictive ingredient — nicotine — as ordinary cigarettes, and vaping (especially cannabis vaping) has been linked to a growing number of hospitalizations and deaths.
3. Fewer than half of people who have a cardiac arrest outside a hospital get bystander CPR.
Immediate CPR can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chances of survival.
4. There are 9.4 million Americans with diabetes who don’t know they have it.
Untreated diabetes is the quick path to a heart attack, stroke, blindness, amputation....
5. More than 14 million U.S. households are food insecure.
Mothers who don’t get appropriate nutrition have children who are sick. Children who don’t know where their next meal is coming from aren’t ready to learn when they get to school. Children raised in homes without adequate food grow up to be parents of children without adequate food.
From a personal perspective, the list wasn’t all that terrifying. I don’t vape and don’t have children. I’m routinely tested for diabetes and have never been close. I’m not food insecure. I run every day, although I should probably add some weight-lifting to my gym time.
I have had CPR instruction, but that was several years ago. The other day I happened to be with a man who was showing most of the symptoms of congestive heart failure. It made me run through the process in my head. Was it 14 and 2 and they won’t turn blue or was it 13 and 2? I felt less than ready to rip open his shirt if he collapsed, which, I’m glad to say, didn’t happen. I need to take a refresher course, but on a personal fright level, I’m below zombie apocalypse, closer to “Is that a fiddleback spider?”
Still, the heart association is right. On a social level, all of those facts should terrify us.
They add up to a future where America is fat, sick, unable to work and dying too early.
In Oklahoma, where people are much more likely to smoke, eat wrong and exercise as little as possible, the anxiety should be even higher.
That fear isn’t just for the obese and the smokers, although it is personal for them. Future Medicare and Medicaid costs will be directly impacted by our national wellness level. You only need to worry about someone else’s health if you pay taxes or health insurance premiums.
We really aren’t talking about this as a nation.
We all know the things we can do in the direction of personal responsibility: Lose weight, stop smoking, learn CPR ... .But very little time, especially in the political realm, is spent talking about what we can do to shape a healthier future. The national discussion about health care has been dominated about access to health care. It’s a critical consideration, but not the only consideration.
If we want a healthier future as a nation or state we could:
• Use tax policy and insurance rates to encourage the things we want more of: Low body mass indexes, CPR training and gym memberships come to mind.
• Use tax policy and insurance rates to discourage the things we want less of. If we don’t want kids to vape, maybe we should tax them on the same level as cigarettes. Why doesn’t the price we pay for a can of high-sugar soda reflect the actual costs it represents in future heart attacks and strokes?
• Ban public smoking. Oklahoma’s current half-way measures were written to appease Big Tobacco and smoking voters. People who are exposed to second-hand smoke also vote. At the very least, allow cities to tighten the regulations where the state won’t.
• Raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21. We don’t let 19-year-olds buy vodka, why should we let them buy a product we know causes cancer and heart disease?
Most of those ideas can be accomplished on state or national level. When Congress decided it wanted more motorcycle helmets, it passed a mandate and used federal funding as leverage. All but three states complied. Then Congress backed off the requirement, and the states started repealing their requirements. Federal mandate work. All it takes is the political will to save lives.
But there’s no sign that our nation has that political will, which is really scary.