A mes­sage to the healthy-liv­ing scolds: We all die some­day

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

he Den­ver Post re­cently ran a story about life­span dis­par­i­ties be­tween Den­ver’s low-in­come and wealthy neigh­bor­hoods. From the tone of the ar­ti­cle, one would think that the city’s poor west-siders are keel­ing over in their 40s while the wealthy Wash Park­ers live to an ad­vanced old age. But close ex­am­i­na­tion of the chart that ac­com­pa­nied this ar­ti­cle re­veals that life ex­pectancy in all metro neigh­bor­hoods al­ready meets or ex­ceeds the three score and 10 promised in the Bi­ble.

How­ever, since low-in­come res­i­dents do trail by a decade their bet­ter-off coun­ter­parts, reach­ing only the sev­enth decade of life in­stead of the eighth, this is con­sid­ered a health cri­sis sig­nif­i­cant enough to merit the cre­ation of yet another group to ha­rangue the poor about their bad life­style choices.

The new Cen­ter for Health Eq­uity is de­ter­mined to carry its healthy liv­ing mes­sage to the com­mu­ni­ties they be­lieve most need to hear it. You can bet Hill­top, Crest­moor and Bon­nie Brae are not on their list. They won’t bother the rich who al­ready live long lives. But why is that? Do the wealthy have no vices? Maybe they could stand to hear a few healthyliv­ing lec­tures. Un­less fine wines, Chateaubriand and fat cigars are con­sid­ered some­how in­her­ently less harm­ful to one’s health than cheap booze, Quar­ter Pounders and cig­a­rettes.

This group should take note: it is highly likely that the poor al­ready know that broc­coli is good for you and cheese fries are bad. For at least the last quar­ter-cen­tury, cit­i­zens of this coun­try have been re­lent­lessly bom­barded via tele­vi­sion, mag­a­zines, books and the in­ter­net with in­for­ma­tion about the many ben­e­fits of a healthy diet and vig­or­ous ex­er­cise. Yet peo­ple stub­bornly per­sist in pur­su­ing their bad habits. This is a per­fect ex­am­ple, not of ig­no­rance, but of in­tran­si­gence, the sheer bull­headed ex­er­cise by free adults of their free will. No amount of in­for­ma­tion is likely to change that re­al­ity of hu­man na­ture, and there is no med­i­cal cure for it. Peo­ple know very well what they need to do. They just do not, will not do it.

One point for the poor to con­sider: do they re­ally want to give up the vices they en­joy — sug­ary drinks, fatty foods, smok­ing cig­a­rettes — to live a few more measly and likely mis­er­able years? Granted, Mae West said, “If I had known I was go­ing to live this long, I would have taken bet­ter care of my­self.”

Still, it’s not like 85 is the new 30. Any­one who thinks it’s an ab­so­lutely fab­u­lous idea to live to an ad­vanced old age needs to pay a visit to a nurs­ing home and talk with res­i­dents there about the joys of arthri­tis, in­con­ti­nence and mac­u­lar de­gen­er­a­tion. On the way out, stop by the mem­ory care wing and wit­ness first­hand the rav­ages of Alzheimer’s. Ad­vo­cacy groups have been warn­ing for years that this hideous dis­ease is on the march, likely to nearly triple by 2050. There is no pre­ven­tion and no cure. And what is the big­gest risk fac­tor for Alzheimer’s dis­ease? Old age.

But let’s sup­pose the Cen­ter for Health Eq­uity is suc­cess­ful in its mis­sion to greatly im­prove the health of Den­ver’s low-in­come res­i­dents, ex­tend­ing their lives well into their late eight­ies. Then what? As Redd Foxx said, “Health nuts are go­ing to feel stupid some­day, ly­ing in hos­pi­tals dy­ing of noth­ing.”

The harsh re­al­ity is, no mat­ter how long we live, death awaits us. There is no Court of Ap­peals to over­turn the fi­nal rul­ing of the Grim Reaper when he taps on your shoul­der. In­come dis­par­i­ties will not mat­ter then be­cause wealth can­not buy im­mor­tal­ity. Every­one, es­pe­cially the med­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment, should keep in mind the old Latin say­ing: me­mento mori. Teresa Kee­gan works for the courts in Den­ver. E-mail her at b161­tak@yan­dex.com.

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