A failing legacy

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

June 2009

There is a disease of children called progeria, a term derived from the Greek, meaning premature old age. From early infancy the victims of this condition begin to show the signs of aging: fragile skin, hair loss and heart disease. Few live beyond adolescence.

American children and those in First World countries are also dying prematurely of diseases that usually occur in old age. This process is much more subtle, the signs not so obvious and superficial and the end stages begin when these victims reach the mid-thirties. The cause is not obscure but it is being ignored by their guardians: it is lifestyle.

High blood pressure is no longer unusual among teenagers. Neither is type 2 diabetes and its life-shattering complications are no longer rare in twenty-somethings. Autopsy studies of young accident victims reveal fatty deposits in the coronary arteries of middle-schoolers.

There is a mind-numbing disregard of this phenomenon at every level of society and government. Acknowledging a doubling of healthcare costs between 2006 and 2016, the government seeks ways to improve the efficiency of the system, employing de facto rationing and other means that are destined to fail. Physicians apply statins and stents to arteries that could have stayed open if their owners ate differently and exercised more. Diabetes is a growth industry in which prescription drugs are promoted on TV by overweight spokespersons oblivious to the preventability of their condition. School administrators have made recess safer by making it sedentary.

The financial meltdown of 2008 was the result of the public's ignorance, the financiers' greed and the politicians' lack of discipline. The meltdown of the healthcare system is bearing down on us for similar reasons: public apathy, the food industry's marketing successes and politicians' unwillingness to pay for prevention because the results will occur a couple of decades after the next election.

It's too late to change the trajectory of chronic disease for Baby Boomers, the first wave of which will reach retirement age in 2010. It's not too late to change the future of those who have not yet reached adulthood. We're already leaving them with a dismal financial legacy. Let's at least give them a healthy one.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.