Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Are the richest people the healthiest people?

You have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness. Should you have a right to life, liberty and pursuit of the 1 percent. Will it improve your health - if you improve your personal wealth?

Are the 1 percent wealthiest people also the healthiest 1 percent? It's an interesting question.

You might think that people who are very wealthy would want to use that wealth to improve their health.  Maybe it's true.

Are they healthier?  There is no evidence that the wealthiest 1 percent are any healthier than the rest of us.  There two reasons why they might never be the healthiest.

Let's suppose you are a member of the 1 percent wealthiest in your country - and you want to know if you are also a member of the 1 percent healthiest.

Who do you ask? What test(s) can you take?  Where can you go to find an answer? Who can reliably measure your health - and tell you if you are in the top 1 percent?  No-one.  Nowhere.

Your doctor might say something like 'you are a picture of health', 'you are as healthy as someone 5 or 10 years younger', or 'you are very healthy, but you need to quit smoking'. Do these measurements actually mean anything?  Do they have any scientific validity?  No.  We don't measure health.  If you are sick - you are not healthy.  Otherwise, you are healthy.  Our health measurements are, for the most part, binary.  Yes or no.  You are healthy, or not.

The first reason you cannot be the healthiest is a technical reason. We don't measure healthiness.  Therefore, there is no scientific evidence. There is no scientifically accepted technique, not even a scientific prototype technique for measuring overall health. So, we can't tell if any individual, or any income group, is healthier.  We might assume that the poorest people are less healthy - and it make sense to assume.  But assumptions can be wrong.  We need to measure. We do have some measurements for individual components of health - but there is no agreement, no research into which items are most important to healthiness.  And there's the medical vs health issue.  Most so called 'health measurements' are actually measurements of 'illness'.

We measure sickness.  We measure illness and then extrapolate, under the assumption that people who are less sick are more healthy. This can lead to useful, but also to ridiculous analyses. The World Health Organization, for the most part, measures illness.  The closest their statistics come to measuring health are the measurements of life expectancy.

Is a measurement of life expectancy a measurement of healthiness?  It provides useful information in the study of large groups, but for smaller groups, or individuals - it is almost useless. What use is a health measurement that can only be executed after you are dead?

Is it possible, you might ask, that members of the 1 percent are the healthiest - but we just don't measure it? Frankly, no. How do we know?  We know because we do measure illness - and the wealthiest 1 percent are not the 'least ill'.  Measurements of illness are NOT measurements of healthiness, but we can expect some correlation. eg. The people who are 'most healthy' should also be the people who are 'least ill'.  Richard Wilkinson has demonstrated that, among the richest nations, there is a huge spread in 'unhealthiness' - with Japan and Sweden having very low unhealthiness - while the UK and the US have very high levels of unhealthiness. He has concluded that this spread is largely due to unequal distribution of wealth.  And he has also demonstrated that in countries with huge wealth - and large inequities between wealth of individuals - even the wealthiest individuals have more unhealthiness.

The second reason that the 1 percent are probably not the healthiest is, "you can't buy healthiness". There is no need to ask "Does money make unhealthiness more bearable."  The question is moot.  Money should be used to create healthiness, not to make in more bearable.

If you look again at the hierarchy of health - it is clear that you can't buy healthiness with money. The layers in the hierarchy of health: genetics, nutrition, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, mind, spirit and community. 

You can buy nutrients, which have potential to produce healthy cells, tissues, organs, systems, body and mind. But dollars will not help you to buy the healthiest nutrients - because we (our scientists) don't have any idea which are healthiest.  There is constant debate about which foods are healthiest, and which are the unhealthiest.

The debate about which foods are healthiest is often confused with similar debates about: which foods 'cure illness'; and which foods might 'prevent illness'; - both lists which might be very different foods than those which are healthiest. It makes sense that some 'unhealthy' foods might cure an 'illness', by killing it - and leaving you alive.

And if we do learn which foods are healthiest?  Maybe the best won't be to your taste.

Even if you consume the best nutrients, your body and mind need physical and mental stress (exercise) to help you attain optimal health. This takes time and energy - and you can't pay someone else to do it for you.  But more important - we (our scientists) don't know which exercises are best for your body, and which are best for your mind, nor the most appropriate frequency. And the theoretically best stresses - might not be your favorite.  Each person needs to find the best for themselves, with some guidance from science.

And what about spiritual healthiness?  Can you buy it with money?  Or do we find that the people who are most healthy spiritually - care the least about money?  We can't measure genetic, or nutritional health effectively - how can we possibly learn to measure spiritual health scientifically? Does the Pope have a healthy spirit?  Do religious leaders have healthy spirits? Does the Dalai Lama have the healthiest spirit? We know that the person with the strongest muscles might not be the healthiest person.  Does the person with the strongest spirit have the healthiest spirit? An interesting question.

And community healthiness?  Can your health be optimal if you live in an unhealthy community? We each live in many communities.  Our family, our friends, our clubs and organizations, our various levels of government, our country and the community of our planet.

Ultimately, each of our communities - even the communities of our enemies, and people who we don't understand, is part of our largest community - the community of humans.

Do you wonder why a wealthy lawyer might leave his wealth generating career and move to a cabin in the backwoods?  Maybe it increases his healthiness.  Was Henry David Thoreau, while in his cabin in the woods, healthier than the factory worker, or market farmer, or the town mayor - each of which made more money than he. Did their money make them healthier?  Do people who win the lottery become healthier?  Or do they spend more money on medicines.

With money, you can buy medicines to help with illness, and medicines to help you deal with symptoms, but you can't buy healthiness.  Each of us  must find our own way to our own level of healthiness.

You have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness.

yours in health, tracy
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: 

Personal Health Freedom