Tuesday, April 29, 2008

It’s A Man’s World?

In what is an alarming trend among American women, a study has found that for the first time in decades the life expectancy for women is declining. Women have always enjoyed longer life expectancies than men during modern times due in large part to their historic roles as homemakers. As more and more women have left the home and joined the workforce they have begun to suffer from the same stress related illnesses as men have suffered. As a result of their new roles outside the home they are now being diagnosed with larger instances of diseases such as diabetes, lung cancer, and heart disease. Most of these diseases are related to stress, poor eating and health habits.

The trend appears to be driven by increases in death from diabetes, lung cancer, emphysema and kidney failure. It reflects the long-term consequences of smoking, a habit that women took up in large numbers decades after men did, and the slowing of the historic decline in heart disease deaths.

It may also represent the leading edge of the obesity epidemic. If so, women's life expectancy could decline broadly across the United States in coming years, ending a nearly unbroken rise that dates to the mid-1800s.

The most disturbing trend found in the study is the increasing numbers of women suffering from obesity. While Americans across the board are heavier than the rest of the world and heavier than we have ever been, the largest gains in the obese population has been made by women. Presently 33 percent of American women are considered obese compared to 27% of Western European women, compared to Asia the numbers are staggering. Why are so many American women obese? Many health studies have suggested that the rise in fast food consumption due to the lack of time spent at home by working women has helped to fuel the obese epidemic. Along with the increased consumption of high fat fast food there is also the reduction in physical exercise by all Americans.

The most frightening trend of the obesity epidemic is the rise in childhood obesity. Because so many mothers are now working outside the home and with many of them having little time to prepare meals, the children are being exposed to those same high fat fast foods, also the increase in video game playing and less actual physical exercise has also led to an increase in childhood obesity. Because so many of our children are being exposed to being overweight we are sentencing them to lives beset with health problems. Many of the increases we have gotten in life expectancy and disease reductions are at risk of being reversed very quickly.

Women due to their position in our society have always enjoyed a longer life expectancy than men, however these trends I believe will begin to reverse and many women will continue to suffer from the same health issues that have plagued men. I believe that the numbers will actually become worse for women for two reasons. First, because we are physically different due to evolution, genetics, or whatever you choose to believe in men have tended to be better able to cope with the stress of providing; hunting or gathering, if you will. Secondly, because women today are not only hunting and gathering, but they are also still expected to care for the children and the home this increases the stress levels to unsustainable levels. The good news is that “you’ve come a long way baby”, the bad news is that the stress is going to kill you sooner.

While I am not advocating a return to “keep ‘em in the kitchen”, I do think it is worth noting that as we have increased the number of women working outside the home there have been some direct unhealthy behaviors developed in our homes and in the lives of women and children. We can’t un-ring the bell, but we must begin to combat the effects that are starting to emerge from this phenomenon. How we do this of course is open to debate by greater minds than mine, but if the current trends continue our healthcare system is headed for a total meltdown due to preventable causes.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/21/AR2008042102406.html?hpid%3Dtopnews&sub=AR

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