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Blaming the Victims

02/26/02 12:00AM

I see a danger growing in the explosion of information emerging on health care problems and costs.

The danger is in blaming the victims for their sickness. So Aunt Mary has diabetes? Well you know how she loves her ice cream.

Ed's heart attack was predictable. Smoking like a chimney and always so hard-driving. We told him to slow down.

The more we learn about why so many Americans are unhealthy, the more we tend to look for the ways they might have brought it on themselves.

But when it comes to living unhealthy lifestyles, nearly all of us are living in glass houses. Hold the rock-throwing -- until I improve my diet and start exercising more.

Besides, I personally know a number of sick non-smokers who ran and rode bikes.

So even though I believe a lot of the illness we're having could be prevented, I cringe when I hear people blaming the victims.

I am interested in learning more about what we can do together or individually to make ourselves healthier and to reduce our growing heath care burden.

For example, it's been reported recently that Type 2 diabetes, the kind that usually appears in adults over 40, is reaching epidemic proportions and is reaching down in age, even to children.

It's related to obesity and sedentary lifestyles. But recent studies have shown that even small weight losses and the addition of a walk every day can delay or prevent its onset.

There's something promising nearly anyone could do.

By now everybody knows about the health care costs of smoking. Numbers like 50 billion dollars a year are mind-numbing.

But when those numbers come home in the form of serious illness, the warnings get real. Yet it might be too late then for anything but regret and guilt.

And here's another puzzle. The costs of alcohol abuse total up nationally, to more than 5 billion dollars a year. When an alcohol abuser needs a liver transplant, or injures himself or others, we all share that cost. How should we handle that?

What are some new ways we can get ourselves and our communities energized to get rid of the lifestyle choices that cause so much sickness in our lives?

What about a health insurance incentive - not for people who don't get sick, but for people who choose to follow a short list of key recommendations. Call it a Healthy Vermonter bonus.

Well, there's the challenge. We need to think of ways, without heaping guilt on the sick, that we can we take action to prevent more of the devastating diseases that are threatening us and the people we love --- and that are threatening to collapse our health care system.

I think these are the kinds of conversations that we need have - both in public forums and at home around the dinner table.

--Peg Devlyn is co-owner of Marketing Partners, Inc. in Burlington, Vermont.


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