Every year around this time - just in time for the holidays, I suspect - the National Center for Health Statistics issues the national health report card. This yearly number-crunching gives us a glimpse at our health status but also adds the routine holiday warnings against eating too much and drinking too much. Weight and alcohol, it seems, are two major factors that impact our health, as if that's a surprise announcement.
So here's the good news. Life expectancy has hit another all-time high. On average you can expect to live 77.6 years. But that's about the only good news coming from this annual report. It seems that the older baby boomers - 55-64 years of age - have high blood pressure and 40 percent are obese. In other words, this age bracket (which includes yours truly) is in worse shape than Americans born a decade earlier. And since these boomers are nearing Medicare and Social Security eligibility, that may mean more federal dollars for health care in the short-term.
If you take a look back, you can expect to live two years longer than the average back in 1990. That's because of advancements in medicine and sanitation and a decrease in smoking. But at the same time, obesity is quickly becoming as costly as smoking. So maybe we should look for warning labels on food items like "Eating this product will make your fanny the size of a bus." Doubt it!
This report has millions of interesting statistics. Nearly one-third of the population suffers from low back pain. And we spend 15 cents of every dollar for health care related expenditures. We spend in the trillions but I'm not sure how many zeroes are in a trillion so just take my word for it.
So there you have it. Watch your lifestyle and your weight and you can expect on average to live 77.6 years. Follow the medical advice you're given and you'll likely top that life expectancy.
But throughout this report, I found something missing. It's that one aspect of our lives that the medical community dances around. It's stress.
Stress has the potential to have a greater impact on our health than all of the other lifestyle issues combined. But the medical community has little to say about stress other than to change those aspects of your life that are creating the stress. That's a whole lot easier said than done. So they turn to pills that are designed to decrease the stress and anxiety. But in reality, these have little impact.
You would think that around the holidays, the health experts would at the very least mention stress in their health report card. People this week by the millions will battle one another in malls throughout the country, juggling strained budgets and hectic schedules. We'll fight miserable weather and we'll alter our routines to adjust to the holidays. In the next two weeks, we'll balance more activities than you can shake a stick at and we'll be expected to maintain a smile throughout. All the while, stress builds and builds.
Maybe next year in the array of statistics on weight and blood pressure and smoking and drinking, the national health experts will just mention stress. Unfortunately we can measure most factors but we can't measure stress. Or at least not until it kills us.