By Jim Kempton
For most of human existence, societies have struggled with a consistent set of challenges: how to avoid famine, evade deadly disease and secure their safety. People hoped to live to a ripe old age of 40 and prayed death would be sudden rather than agonizing.
But since the mid-20th century, America has turned this set of equations upside down. Today, we harvest bumper crops with surplus to feed the world. We live in safe, clean, well-lit neighborhoods free from disease or imminent outside aggression. Our expected lifespan has doubled from just two centuries ago, now pushing nearly 80.
Ironically, the very abundance with which we have been blessed now may challenge us the most. Obesity, health care costs, the Social Security and Medicaid crisis, drug addiction, illegal immigration and unrelenting traffic are among our most serious problems.
Cheap, plentiful food, with our propensity to eat in restaurants, has resulted in such huge meal portions with such fattening ingredients that over 30 percent of our citizens have become obese. For $10 in America, you can order more food in one meal than you need to eat in a weekend.
Our Social Security crisis is primarily created by our lifespans. When the program started, people lived only a few years after 65. Now, we often live to be octogenarians. As our life expectancy continues to increase, the years we collect Social Security follow suit, driving our expenditures beyond currently sustainable levels.
And, of course, living longer means we need more health care, more late-life expensive treatments and more long-term assistance. A 2011 UCLA medical study found that 25 percent of all Medicare expenses occur in our last six months of life.
With plenty of money for research and production, not to mention enormous profits made by pharmaceutical companies and drug cartels, drugs (legal and illegal) are cheap and plentiful, multiplying the number of prescriptions, abuse and side effects. Kids used to die from diseases we have eliminated from our world—cholera, polio, smallpox. Today, they die from abundantly available drugs—opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine.
There is an unfortunate byproduct of our cornucopia of plenty. Without discipline, social responsibility and an iron will to do the hard things when necessary, we find ourselves chained to a new set of predicaments—the affliction of affluence.
Jim Kempton is an enthusiastic proponent of the Wellness & Prevention Center Foundation, www.wpc-oc.org a local nonprofit helping to stem the tide of addiction and provide services for at-risk youth in our community. Please support its efforts.