The Healthy Are Dying Out

22. June 2015
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Apparently, ubiquitous access to medication and medical care does not improve the subjective perception of one's health among members of the population. Despite medical advances, people feel more ill than they did 25 years ago. What is going wrong with all those experiencing sick feelings?

In actuality, the majority of the population in Western countries is supposed to feel healthier than 25 years ago. That’s because over this period both medical diagnostics as well as therapeutic options have kept steadily developing.

Through modern molecular biology methods, disease cases can be tracked down before their onset – threatened breasts, for example, can be removed before the diagnosis “cancer” ever arrives. Ultrasound images from foetuses nowadays even permit eyelashes to be counted, or measuring is able to be carried out to determine whether or not during birth the head will fit through the pelvis. Genetic testing reveals whether the unborn child will be spared from developing the family’s inherited diseases. If not, these can be treated at an early stage.

Ageing gracefully with new joints

In addition, more and more people are allowed to become old thanks to modern medicine, even having a high quality of life. Of course, the body wears out here and there, but putting in new joints does not tie those recently operated to their beds for weeks. This is because a multitude of operations can be carried out in a minimally invasive manner and therefore are a light burden for the patient. So in actuality, people should feel better than 25 years ago. But they do not. This is what a scientist at Ohio State University has found.

Prof. Hui Zheng compared several large, multinational bodies of data (OECD Health Data, World Development Indicators, the World Values ​​Survey and the European Values Study), from which he could see how people had assessed their health between 1981 and 2007 on a five-point scale from 1 (very good) to 5 (very bad). He correlated the data with the medical development in 28 countries which are all members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Investment, specialisation and pharmaceuticals

Zheng examined three types of medical development: medical investment, ie. how much money was spent per capita and on health care services for the entire country. The next items on Zheng’s list were medical professionalisation and specialisation. This includes for example the number of practicing physicians and specialists. Third in line was per-capita spending on pharmaceuticals.

His sobering conclusion: “Access to medicines and medical care did not improve our subjective perception of health. In the US, for example, the number of people who described their health as “very good” suffered a drop, from 39 percent in 1982 to 28 percent in 2006″, says Zheng.

But everything was better in earlier times

Zheng went even further. On the basis of the data he simulated an alternative scenario. In his model, he let medical development stagnate at the level of 1982. Other factors, such as the economic development of a country – which is usually associated with better health care – he left unchanged.

Under these conditions, people as a result of the hypothetical analysis would have felt healthier today in all 28 countries. In such a case 38 percent of Americans would have considered their health in 2006 to be “very good”. “One can hardly believe it, but the data is clear: better medical care does not help the population to feel healthier – which is a real blow”, says Zheng.

It’s all no good …

In his study, Zheng also took factors into account that do not count directly to medical development which can nonetheless still influence human health. These include the economic development of a country and life expectancy at birth. Zheng also drew individual factors such as education and marital status and income level into his analysis. Despite this, the result did not improve. Advances in medical investments on specialisation and pharmaceuticals continued to be associated with people’s poorer subjective health perception over the years. “All of our apparent improvements in the healthcare system apparently have the opposite effect”, Zheng says in presenting his summary of the study results.

Why is that?

Zheng suspects several reasons as the cause of this phenomenon: “In recent years, more diseases have been discovered, or “created”, of which people still knew nothing or almost nothing about 40 years ago. I am talking about, for example, ADHD, burnout syndrome and autism”.

Moreover, preventative screenings are being pushed at an accelerating rate according to Zheng. That would mean that even more disease cases are being discovered than previously. “Overdiagnosis may also harm healthy individuals”, says the scientist.

We expect too much

What’s more an entitlement mentality of the people could be increasing alongside medical development. “People might expect too much of the health care system, unrealistically perfect health”, Zheng adds. The beginning of a vicious circle: “As the demands on their health continue to rise, people feel worse and demand ever more health care”.

In a previous study [Paywall] Zheng had already shown that the confidence of Americans in their health care in the last 30 years – during a time of great medical advances – has fallen. “The trust of the people, regardless of gender, age, income group or other group affiliation, has been lost to about the same extent as their perceived state of health”, says Zheng. Why this is so the researcher can only guess: The economic rationalisation of health care is a major contributor to the loss of confidence, he says. “Confidence fades once people have the feeling that doctors treat more according to economic considerations than to the needs of the patient”.

Original publication:

Why has medicine expanded? The role of consumers
Hui Zheng; preliminary online version. Study published in July 2015 in the scientific journal Social Science Research.

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1 comment:

Dr. Rajeev Prakash
Dr. Rajeev Prakash

definitely the people are becoming more sick because of ilife style diseases now.we have to take a holistic view of life. human body is not a machine which has to be kept in a perfact condition by regular check ups.

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