Jim Brock: Keeping up with the Joneses might be killing us

Jim Brock More Content Now

Mortality is a relative subject these days. With ongoing advancements in medical technology, you would think we are living longer and healthier lives.

According to the research, human beings are living a little longer than we were a generation ago, but the U.S. has fallen a little behind.

A May 2014 global averages report from the World Health Organization states that a female born in 2012 can expect to live an average of 73 years, and a male can expect to live an average of 68 years.

This is six years longer than the “average global life expectancy for a child born in 1990,” the report said.

WHO made two lists of the 10 top-ranked countries with the highest average life expectancy – one for men and another for women – but the U.S. was not on either list.

For men, Iceland came in first with 81.2, and Luxembourg was 10th with 79.7. For women, Japan was first with 87, and Portugal was last with 84.

According to a November 2013 report from The Huffington Post, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that the U.S. in 2011 ranked 26th in life expectancy out of the 36 OECD member countries with an average of 78.7 years – 76 years for men and 81 for women.

That number was below the OECD average of 80.1.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were just over 2.5 million deaths in the U.S. in 2011, or about 807.3 deaths per 100,000 people.

The top 10 leading causes of death were:

* Heart disease: 596,577;

* Cancer: 576,691;

* Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 142,943;

* Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 128,932;

* Accidents (unintentional injuries): 126,438;

* Alzheimer’s disease: 84,974;

* Diabetes: 73,831;

* Influenza and Pneumonia: 53,826;

* Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 45,591;

* Intentional self-harm (suicide): 39,518.

So what are we doing wrong? Are we not spending enough in health care?

That can’t be the case, as health costs made up 17.7 percent of the U.S. GDP in 2011, compared with the OECD average of 9.3 percent.

Here are a few things to consider.

The CDC reports that in 2012, about 34.9 percent of people in the U.S. were obese, down slightly from 35.7 percent in 2010.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability for Americans ages 15 to 44 and affects about 14.8 million American adults.

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million adults in the U.S. age 18 and older, roughly 18 percent of the population, and often accompany some sort of depression.

Although this is not a new disorder, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has gained a renewed awareness with soldiers returning home from overseas.

PTSD affects about 7.7 million Americans, although any type of traumatic experience can cause it.

It would be easy to dismiss mental illness as something you can just get over. But with suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., the people saying “just get over it” should get over themselves and pay more attention to what’s going on.

Our social infrastructure is crumbling with every passing moment, and we are exhausted – mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

We should take a look at what America is becoming.

In Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom,” protagonist Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) becomes infuriated by a question from a young girl who asks, “Why is America the greatest country in the world?”

I will abbreviate the answer for obvious reasons.

“…There’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports.

“We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined – 25 of whom are allies.

“Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student. But you, nonetheless, are without a doubt a member of the Worst. Generation. Ever…”

It is difficult to persevere in America. We have painted ourselves in a corner with our competitive culture.

The U.S. comprises less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but we use about 25 percent of its resources. We throw more food away in a week than most people in the world eat in six months.

Roughly 50 percent of the nation’s wealth is earned by the top 10 percent of Americans, yet we all seem to think that one day we will be rich.

But why wait?

When we see something new, we have to have it. We are very much like the child who kicks and screams until he or she gets the new toy from the TV commercials, even though there is a room already full of toys.

But it’s not completely our fault, and living in a constant state of guilt is pointless.

We live like this because it’s our cultural mandate. We are a consumer-driven society. We are constantly seeking to move up the socioeconomic ladder. We have to have it, and if we can’t afford it, we find ways to pay for it.

Much like our federal government, we take on debt if we can’t write a check for it. And if history shows us anything, there are plenty of people waiting to give us a loan they KNOW we can’t pay back.

We have gone from the 1950s paradigm of the American Dream to stressed-out Americans who work way too much.

Everyone is constantly coming and going. Family dinners have gone the way of the Dodo bird, so a greasy bucket of chicken or a sack full of cheeseburgers have taken the place of a home-cooked meal.

When you factor in the stress of keeping up with a busy schedule; working the hours required to afford the house, cars and various other things society says you need; and finding time for entertainment – you realize that stress is already starting to take years off your life.

If you ever watch the TV show “Mad Men,” you see everyone smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Nowadays, healthy lifestyles are all the rage. Some people are convinced there is a societal benevolence with this revolutionary change, but it’s all about the money. Gym memberships, healthy food and other “body-by-whomever” products are very expensive.

If the end game is to be more desirable, Americans will do just about anything. There was a point in time when men thought they could look like the sexy cowboy from the cigarette ad and women thought they could look like a pinup girl if they smoked the right cigarettes.

Just ask Mick Jagger.

No wonder so many of us are fat and depressed – our freedom of choice is practically non-existent. We are so busy keeping up with the Joneses that we have lost our sense of self. We tell ourselves that our individuality lies in our possessions and our buying power, but we forget that armored cars don’t fit in coffins.

If we don’t take care of ourselves, there is no guarantee that anyone else will. And it won’t be because they don’t care – they will just be too busy.

Ponder that!


Jim Brock writes for the Nebraska City News-Press.