Health, Economics and our Unyielding March to Doom

One day you’re gonna die! So never miss a Kalpi post. While the thought of our imminent mortality (and I mean imminent) depresses most people, for some it presents an interesting policy challenge. As life expectancies increase how can we ensure that these years are spent in good health?

Among the Israeli population, diabetes, depression and lower back pain are three of the five most common diseases (the other two involve people being sick of Bibi and Herzog). The diabetes rate is specifically troubling as it has increased in frequency by over 60% since 1990 and appears more here than in Europe. These diseases occur three times as often within the Israeli population as compared to cancer despite killing fewer people.

It is perhaps for this reason that Israel’s “good health” rate grows at half a month a year slower than its very high life expectancy rate (a really interesting study by the Taub Center credits military service for the high life expectancy rate, though it seems to focus on exercise practices instilled by the army and not the chain smoking practices) while in similar countries the growth of the “good health” rate lags behind by only 9 days a year. Over the course of a lifetime this adds up to a year and a half of living in bad health.  Therefore, we must find ways to increase the number of years lived in good health.

A Taub Center paper makes a number of suggestions regarding what can be done to improve the number of good health years within the Israeli population. I would like to provide one example to show the connection between economics and health. Part of Israel’s health advantage as compared to other countries is its diet of vegetables, dairy and legumes. However, increasing food prices may move families to cheaper processed foods contributing to Israeli children consuming far more sugar than children around the world and the uptick in diabetes. There are a number of steps that could be taken to encourage consumption of healthy food, but one simple solution is to move government price supports from some food such as white bread to similar but healthier food such as whole wheat bread. If steps are not taken by the government to improve the disease burden, the government will be forced to spend money on curing disease as opposed to preventing disease.

Enjoy your life!

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