Clean Livin’

Health care--it's one of the hottest items in today's election debate. Every group is offering its own proposal for reforming America's health care system. But you don't have to wait for some expensive, sweeping national health care policy. You see, the most common health problems are best solved on the personal level. That's right. It turns out that the U.S.--more than any other developed country--is paying staggering medical bills that arise from individual behavior. Take drug abuse, for example. It causes horrendous health problems--not just for those who indulge in it but also for tens of thousands of babies born to addicted mothers. And crime. Americans pay steeply for our high rate of violence. A better crime program would do more to clear out emergency rooms than any new health care program. And if you choose to sleep around, you'd better expect some big medical bills--for syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes. And now there's AIDS, which is costing billions. Addictive habits cost a lot, too. Like smoking. Last year the cost of health care provided to smokers totaled $52 billion. And still, some 400,000 people died before their time from smoking-related illnesses. Alcoholism is a killer, too. It's involved in a staggering proportion of homicides, suicides, and injuries. And in nearly half the motor vehicle deaths every year. If you think none of this applies to you, here's one that may. Dr. Louis Sullivan, secretary of Health and Human Services, warns that eating unhealthy food--with too much sugar, salt, and fat--is related to 5 leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke, infant mortality, and diabetes. To put it bluntly, many of America's health problems are caused by our own bad choices and bad habits. Sullivan estimates that 40 to 70 percent of the disability and premature death in America is linked to behavior people could control. In our most common afflictions, we are not so much victims of disease as victims of our own behavior. So if we're looking for a solution to our health care problems, here's part of it. As the old saying goes, what we need is "clean living"--don't smoke, don't drink, don't sleep around, don't eat junk food. As Secretary Sullivan puts it, health depends on personal character: on "personal values ... such as self-discipline, integrity, honor, taking responsibility." Too many Americans view the health care system as though it were an all-purpose "fix-it" shop. We choose behavior and lifestyles that are harmful to our health--and then we expect the health care system to compensate for our bad habits, to protect us from the consequences of our behavior. No wonder the health care system is overburdened. So why are politicians making such a fuss over multi-million-dollar health care programs? The solution lies with us. From crime to bad habits, America's health depends on the millions of choices made every day by people like you and me. Good health is not a commodity we buy from experts. It's not something Congress can purchase by spending more money. Basic good health depends on our own values and choices. It's a matter of character.


Chuck Colson


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