A message to the healthy-living scolds: We all die someday
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.