Americans lack accountability for their lifestyles

Editorial Board

It’s no surprise that taxes are a hot topic on the campaign trail. The combination of budget deficits and an economic recession have put average folks in a tough spot.

Parents are tapping into 401(k) benefits to afford tuition payments, young professionals are seeking second and third jobs to make ends meet, and Congress used last year’s economic stimulus package to extend unemployment benefits out to 73 weeks.

Even Iowa State was forced to trim 10 percent of its budget using furloughs, early retirement and lower-paying lecture positions, forcing some departments to eliminate programs, merge with other departments and increase class sizes.

NPR’s Jacob Goldstein recently covered a report from think-tank Third Way, suggesting a “taxpayer receipt” for those filing tax returns. The report breaks down spending for the $5,400 in federal taxes paid by an individual making $34,000 per year, and we’ll be providing a link to the chart and report in the online edition of this editorial.

According to Third Way, almost 40 percent of federal tax dollars pay for three entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Despite reports to the contrary, Social Security isn’t going bankrupt — the program can afford to pay full benefits for all new and existing recipients until 2039, and 80 percent thereafter.

This is particularly important, considering Social Security is a major source of income for two-thirds of the elderly population, and the sole source of income for one-third. It’s also used to pay benefits to children who have lost parents and folks with chronic or terminal illnesses.

With the outright dissolution of entitlement programs clearly off the table, where does that leave us as a nation? How can we continue to maintain our standard of living without further inundating ourselves in debt?

We know one place we can all start: our lifestyle.

Americans take health for granted. While we seem content to complain about the decreasing affordability of health care costs, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to contradict the claim we enjoy the best health care on the planet. That’s not to say doctors from other countries aren’t equally brilliant — they are. That’s also not to say socialized medicine doesn’t work in other countries — it does.

However, in America, we lack accountability. Public discourse regarding the obesity epidemic often times devolves into bickering regarding the accuracy of Body Mass Index as our basis for comparison. Most of us are afforded the luxury of spending our waking hours in a seated position, and fortunes have been made on fad diets and the organic foods craze.

Simply put, our unhealthy lifestyle is affecting health care affordability — we can’t all afford to be fat. Diabetes, heart disease and joint problems are quickly becoming the norm. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons pegs complete hip fracture care around $35,000. Diabetes costs are now covered for Vietnam vets to the tune of $42 billion in the next 10 years.

We urge you to ask yourself one simple question: Does your current lifestyle guarantee you health in 20 years? 40 years? Do you exercise regularly? Are fruits and vegetables an integral part of your diet? Do you shy away from high-calorie food full of fat and sugar, or do you find yourself spending more time in the frozen food section than the produce aisle?

We are the cause — and solution — to many of our problems. General lethargy and overeating is a recipe for disaster that can be remedied only by conscientious public. If you plan on retiring, ever, do yourself two favors: Start saving your money now, and stay healthy.

We owe that much to everyone around us. We owe it to ourselves.