This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

You Cannot Take Health or Safe Food For Granted

Today is World Health Day, as proclaimed by (guess who!) the World Health Organization. This year's theme is safe food:
“Food production has been industrialized and its trade and distribution have been globalized,” says WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “These changes introduce multiple new opportunities for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemicals.”
Dr Chan adds: “A local food safety problem can rapidly become an international emergency. Investigation of an outbreak of foodborne disease is vastly more complicated when a single plate or package of food contains ingredients from multiple countries.”
Unsafe food can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, and cause more than 200 diseases - ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and shellfish containing marine biotoxins.
Keeping food safe requires oversight, typically by (honest) government regulators. This is not something with which the the free market can likely be trusted. The same thing, in my opinion, goes for health care, in general. Indeed, in the United States this is National Public Health Week, as organized by the American Public Health Association. They have produced a very nice infographic reminding Americans that we may think of ourselves as a healthy nation, but we are not, at least not in comparison with almost every other rich country. We have never been first--Sweden and Japan have vied for that honor for decades, but the U.S. is down at 34th in life expectancy, according to the APHA. We leave health care largely to the private sector and do not want the government too involved, except of course for huge government-sponsored programs like Medicare and Medicaid. A better model is the health maintenance organization such as Kaiser Permanente. Their "business" model is a classic insurance model, but with a twist. You pay a fee every month and they make money if you DON'T need intensive medical care. The healthier you are, the more money they make. Contrast that with the fee-for-service model that dominates health care in the U.S.--providers make the most money when you are sick, not when you are well. The twist with Kaiser is that they spend money encouraging you to be as healthy as possible. This should have been the model for health reform in this country...maybe some day.

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