Bob dies sooner than William, says the teacher

veggie-man1“Well, Bob,” said the teacher strictly to her seven-year-old pupil, “Take a good look at William. If you do not get a lot smarter, and will not do your very best in school, you will die seven years sooner than he will, and your health will deteriorate eighteen years before his. Just like what happened to your grandparents. His are still alive. You should think about that very well!”

We could not imagine a teacher uttering such harsh words to a pupil, but this is roughly the silent message we have for the people in society who have a low income. They will become less old than the rich, and get permanent illnesses much earlier in life.

How can we accept this as a civilized country? I think we do this in two ways: by blaming the victim and looking away from it.

We blame the victim by saying the difference originates from the wrong lifestyle of the lower educated. This lifestyle is, after all, their own choice. They’ve made their bed, now they must sleep in it.

However, this is debatable:

a. It has never been proven that the way people live explains the difference.
b. People with a lower income can only buy the cheaper food products. Especially the tastiest cheap foods are usually (much) unhealthier than the more expensive ones.
c. When an entire social group has an unhealthy lifestyle, it is apparently (very) difficult to escape from it. And if it is (very) difficult to escape it, there’s barely a choice.

 There’s a big chance that you, reader, are of higher education and  that you are also shocked by the huge differences in health and life expectancy. But there is also a big change that you will have forgotten this subject by the day after tomorrow. To help you prevent this forgetfulness, I will make two observations that fit in with these times and might appeal to you.

It is important to look even more critically at how we can spread the costs of the healthcare as effectively as possible, now that we have had to cut into its resources. Raising the health and life expectancy of people with a lower income clearly offers us more potential profit. So it would be rational and effective to invest in this instead of economizing it! It seems nice that the economical crisis helps us see the importance in this.

There’s also a large financial interest in this. If we help pensioners with getting older, it will cost us, as a society, extra AOW and healthcare, but if we help non-pensioners to stay healthier for a longer period of time, it will only yield more money, especially when a small labour markets is created from the ageing society!

This last argument does not appeal to me as much as the other one. I think it’s cynical, but  anno 2013, a lot of policy makers will prosper because of it. And of course that is what it is all about. We have to see enough reasons to want to invest into the healthcare of the weakest of society, even if it is only as a voter. With this it is not important if we base our choice on civility, justice or self-motivated. As long as Bob from our example gets a fairer chance to a healthy life.


A blog by Frank Geene