Healthy at 100 was written by John Robbins in 2006 and here I am in 2012 just discovering this tome. I can’t put this book down because what Robbins says about growing old in western culture is spot on.
He writes about the very real importance of good nutrition and about how exercise will really keep a person vibrant well into the later years. I was looking forward to sharing information about “Keeping Your Marbles,” and “What’s Love Got To Do With It” but I couldn’t stop reading and I got to the section entitled “Wealth Distribution and Human Health.”
There are many places in this book where the writer references the Japanese as having the greatest life expectancy on all the earth and asserts that one of the reasons for this is that it is also economically the most equitable of all the world’s affluent nations. I never heard this but it seems that after WWII, General Douglas MacArthur was given the task of overseeing the nation’s reconstruction and in doing this, economically leveled the playing field between the rich and the poor. His reforms were followed by the most rapid rise in health and longevity ever documented in any major country in world history.
Let’s come back to the United States and take a look at what has happened here since WWII. At the end of this war there were very few homeless people on the streets. Even as late as 1970, homelessness in America was still rare. But since that time economic inequality in this country has grown immensely and this gap has had devastating health consequences.
In his book Robbins says, “History shows that whenever inequality of wealth distribution becomes extreme, people tend to spend less on public health, education, and social safety nets. Large numbers of people feel chronically left out, powerless, anxious, angry and afraid. In such societies, everyone – whether they are “haves” or “have-nots” tends to become less trusting of their neighbors and less inclined to help others. Robbins continues, “The result is higher crime rates, increased violence, and higher rates of heart disease, depression, and many other debilitating and deadly ailments for both rich and poor.” Robbins cites Japan and Sweden as two countries first and second in the world in terms of wealth equality and coincidentally (?) first and second in life expectancy.