Is it fair to compare American health care with systems in Europe or Canada?

by Ralph Silverman, MD, FACS, FASCRS

I am tired of the comparisons people make between health care in the United States and other countries. For instance, there are those who think that we should have universal health care because some European countries and Canada do.

It is true that those countries do have universal health care, but is it a fair comparison?

Who does Canada rely on to defend its borders? When the Germans invaded France in World War II who stormed the beaches at Normandy? The point is, these countries rely on the United States for security when peace is compromised. America allocates trillions of dollars to defend both itself and the rest of the world. No other country does this. That money could easily be used for universal health care.

Furthermore, President Obama has consistently said that health care costs are rising and we aren’t any healthier. The White House uses statistics that demonstrate that, in the U.S., childhood disease is more rampant than in European countries, and that people die earlier Stateside. They ask the question, “Why are we not healthier than other countries when we spend more on health care?”

The answer may lie with American patients, who are more obese than patients in other countries. We eat a diet high in fat and carbohydrate content. As a population, we smoke like there’s no tomorrow. We drive everywhere we go and don’t get any exercise. Instead of exercising to control our blood pressure or diabetes, we sit on the couch and take a pill. We eat ice cream and cake, and then take some insulin to bring down our sugar levels.

Consider Asia. People there eat mainly rice and fish and walk everywhere they go. Smoking is a problem there, but it is worse in the United States. How many 300 pound Asian men and women do you see walking into Burger King in Tokyo? The same is true in France. And guess what? People in these countries are healthier than we are. It’s not surprising.

If anything, the United States should give itself a pat on the back. We have managed to treat our bodies like trash, and yet, the length of life is comparable to other countries that live a much healthier lifestyle. Just imagine if we kept health care at the same level and we, as a population, decided to really change our way of life for the healthier.

The White House and the rest of the government need to make fairer comparisons when contrasting our health care system with those of other countries.

After doing so, perhaps things may not be as bad as they appear.

Ralph Silverman is a colorectal surgeon who blogs at The Colon Doctor.

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