I am close to thirty years old. According to the latest data from the World Bank, I can expect to live another 45 to 50 years (Current U.S. life expectancy 78.7 years). However, the quality of those years is up for debate. Our current baby boomer population, on average, is sicker than their parents. The childhood obesity rate for children across the world, but especially in the US, has led many to the conclusion that this generation will become the “sickest generation” in the history of mankind. On top of this, with the population of Americans aged 65 and older expected to double within the next 25 years, there will no doubt be a strain placed on an already taxed healthcare system.
Of course many will argue that numerous aspects of our health are the result of our own personal decision making. This is very true but consider for a second that many individuals, maybe some within your own community, do not have a choice. Maybe they don’t have access to healthy eating options. Maybe they live in an area that exposes them to environmental pollutants. Maybe their occupation requires labor that over time will contribute to chronic pain. For many individuals, we live in a society where the choice has been taken from them or made on their behalf.
For all of us, aging can and possibly will be a difficult process. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a country that has the best intentions, but poor execution. I personally look forward to my next 40-50 years, but I know that many others are not. We must consider that the aging process is not created equal, and that there are many who are and will be unjustly dealt an unfair hand. Aside from the education and outreach initiatives conducted with regard to healthy living and chronic disease, there must be a greater emphasis on policy implementation that catches those at risk. According to the Global AgeWatch Index, Sweden is the best country in the world for the elderly. With reduced costs and an individualized approach, Sweden puts forth a strong effort to ensure the quality of life of its aging population. These efforts illustrate that it’s not impossible for strides to be made in improving or at least maintaining our country’s aging populace.
To give everyone a fair chance, there must be equality at the starting point. It is not enough to expect that public health interventions and education for those at risk for the development of chronic disease will suffice as a method to prevent potential long term health problems. There needs to be more of an effort to eliminate that “risk” to begin with to ensure that children born today, no matter location, race, or socioeconomic status are born with the same expectation of a healthy life. So maybe there is something we can do about it. With time, effort, and collective sacrifice, all Americans can have the opportunity to experience their potential 78.7 years in full health and vitality.
Udo Obiechefu is an E-Tutor for the Master of Health Promotion and Public Health program at Robert Gordon University.