Today’s headlines are enough to make any mother wary. As we battle our toddlers in the grocery store, we hardly have the energy left to decipher the headlines: Organics aren’t healthier, death panels await health care reform, bankers receive record bonuses, swine flu pandemics swirl. What has happened to the world that our children are inheriting? And does anyone care?
Perhaps we should. Because the children of today represent the economy of tomorrow. Today’s parents and grandparents are raising the “think tanks” that are going to be the solutions to tomorrow’s problems . Today’s children will reinvent energy technology, redefine reform and regulations and enhance agricultural productivity in ways that we can not even begin to imagine. But only if we give them the tools with which to do it.
Obama insisting on school and education, with the support of Laura Bush, is a start. But more fundamentally, what about health? Today, 1 in 3 American children now has autism, allergies, ADHD or asthma. 90% of the worlds ADHD medications are prescribed to the American kids, while the US only represent 5% of the world’s population. According to MSNBC, sales of EpiPens are up, while test scores are down. And according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 2 African American kids and 1 in 3 Caucasian kids born in the year 2000 (that is this year’s 4th Graders) will be insulin dependent by the time they reach adulthood.
And while Kraft, Coca Cola and Wal-Mart formulate their products differently for children overseas (with reduced fat, salt and synthetic ingredient content), our National School Lunch Program continues to be a dumping ground for the remnants of the agrichemical corporations who are unable to dispose of their technology laced corn and soy in grocery stores, restaurants or to the livestock industry. And while we allocate $600 billion to the Pentagon in 2009, we only allocated $9 billion to the National School Lunch Program and a meager $2.4 billion to the FDA.
And we wonder why our children have earned the title “Generation Rx or why our economy is heaving under the burden of health care costs.
According to the World Health Organization, the US ranks 37th out of 40 countries (on par with Slovenia) in terms of “health care”. According to the American Cancer Society, the US has the highest rate of cancer of any country in the world, with migration studies showing that if you are to move here from somewhere like Japan, your likelihood of developing cancer increases four-fold.
We’ve done a lousy job of preventing illness in our country. And while that’s been good for Big Pharma, the costs being born by the majority of American citizens now far outweigh the benefits being reaped by a few corporate ones.
As we watch family members suffer from diabetes, cancers and asthma, it begs the question: Why? Why are these conditions often referred to as “American epidemics” in international publications like The Economist? Why does health care spending consume over 16% of our economy here in the US, while its associated economic burden in France is closer to 8%? Why does Starbucks spend more on health care than it does on coffee?
The reasons? There are many. But perhaps the most differentiating is that in our country, sickness sells. With Money Driven Medicine, there is little incentive to prevent illness. Sickness is good for business. Disease enhances earnings. So if the processed food we buy in Aisle 9 contains ingredients linked to hyperactivity in children, then rather than ban the use of that synthetic ingredient and insist on the use of a more natural alternative, as countries around the world have done, we simply have to walk a few aisles over in the grocery store to pick up our ADHD medicines from Aisle 2.
And our economy hums along. Or does it?
In 1946, Harry Truman said, “A nation is only as healthy as its children”. And 50 years ago, we paid close heed, reaping the rewards of today’s Bill Gates and Meg Whitmans. Thirty years ago, we were still paying attention, as evidenced by today’s Mark Zuckerbergs and Sergey Brins.
But what about tomorrow? Given that our future productivity, economic viability and financial stability are contingent on the health of today’s children, perhaps we should pause and consider the seeds that we are sowing with Generation Rx.
And if you are inclined, you can do something about it and be part of the solution.