Want to Live Longer?

Many times I’ve asked octogenarians if they thought they would live to be that age.  I’ve noted that the great majority actually say that they did not think they would be that age.  Besides the humbleness that most have to be blessed with that many years of life, there are other commonalities, such as having a history of eating from a home garden that has been worked yearly while providing for routine exercise for many years, a strong Christian faith, and a history of a strong, stable marriage.  All of these characteristics are associated with living a longer life and many studies back up these statements.

The Bible is full of advice on living a long life.  One example, of many, is that we are instructed, by the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments, to honor our father and mother if we want to live a long life.  Being able to honor one’s father and mother involves the development of many characteristics of living that provide for living a long life.  Those who will not do that are rebellious and that certainly leads to many behaviors with potential for the shortening of life span.  Even when there has been a negative parental experience, deciding upon forgiveness releases one from bitterness, depression, anxiety, and ill health effects when parents are honored solely because they are father and mother.

I’ve said for several years now that I expected to see evidence soon of a decline in life expectancy in our country and, unfortunately, that has come into being.  An article in the New York Times on September 20, “Life Spans Shrink for Least-Educated Whites in the U.S.”, was based upon a study published in August in Health Affairs.  In reference to the study, John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging, stated, “We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling.”  The steepest decline was seen among white women without a high school diploma and this group had a loss of five years of life expectancy between 1990 and 2008; among white men, it was three years lost. Among blacks and Hispanics of the same educational level, life expectancy rose, but blacks have a lower total life expectancy than whites and Hispanics have the longest life expectancy of the three groups.  There are large gaps in life expectancy between those with a high school diploma and those without one.  In the United Nations rankings among countries, American women were 14th place in 1985 and now are at 41st place.

Speculation abounds as to the various reasons why life expectancy is decreasing for whites.  The authors bring out various valid suggestions such as the fact that obesity rates are increasing,  smoking rates and prescription drug overdosing are high among less educated white women, and the least educated Americans many times lack health insurance.  It must also be considered that the rates of unmarried women having children has increased which usually brings with it a lack of educational achievement and income while many single mothers have to work low-wage jobs and are very stressed with negative health effects. Other factors that the authors have not considered include the rise of Hepatitis C and HIV during the time period of this study.

It was stated in the abstract of the study, “The message for policy makers is clear: implement educational enhancements at young, middle, and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today.”  I do not agree with this assessment.  We will not see life span be as great as it can be just because education is enhanced and possibly more people get high school diplomas. Educational achievement does contribute to income levels, but higher income levels alone do not guarantee a longer life either.  I think the real issue here is that not having a high school diploma is associated with other factors which together reflect a greater potential for a shorter life span; in other words, the absence of the high school diploma is a sign of greater problems, rather than being the primary problem.  That primary problem is the detrimental lifestyle choices being made which are also being reflected through the alarming statistics of the breakdown of the traditional family. Although it is ultimately up to the individual and the choices that are made, policy makers can positively increase life spans by promotion of the traditional family through incentives for people to get married and stay married combined with halting the subsidizing of bad behavior.  In the present day, the right lifestyle will usually result in one getting a high school diploma, not vice versa.  Just ask those around you who have made it to being eighty years of age and above.  They’ll gladly share with you some wisdom of how they made it to that age range.  The recognition and respect of a higher moral authority than any human is the beginning of wisdom and a life that will be as long as it can be.

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Fracking Gag Orders

The reported tremendous potential for producing oil through the fracking procedure could result in many changes in our country and certainly would improve our economy. While there is great potential for positive changes, we all would be well served by following a conservative approach of fully investigating and considering all possibilities because all change isn’t always good. There are at least thirty states which have active natural gas drilling occurring and about 90% of these are using fracking.

It is not doubtful to anyone about the benefits of having greater production of oil in our country and it is certainly easier and more pleasant to focus solely on these benefits. However, there are questions in many people’s minds regarding the safety issues. To be more specific, there are many questions being raised concerning health effects of the chemicals that are being used in the fracking process which can sometimes leak into the water supply. This concern is not just theoretical because there are instances in which this has occurred. Being sure what is being done in our country is of utmost importance since it is certainly crucial to have clean water.

Health problems started arising in Pennsylvania patients who had homes near drilling sites that used fracking. A Pennsylvania plastic surgeon, Amy Pare, MD, was seeing patients who had “bleeding, oozing lesions covering their faces.” Dr. Pare became suspicious and did tests which confirmed that the patients had phenol and hippuric acid in their urine; these two chemicals are rarely found in humans, but would be there if ingestion of hydrocarbons and toluene, respectively, were occurring. The patients reportedly cleared up after they quit drinking their well water. One lady in Pennsylvania, Sherry Vargson, leased her mineral rights and was recently pictured demonstrating how she can light a match causing the water to catch on fire when she turns on her kitchen faucet; methane has leached into her well water. There are many residents of northeastern Pennsylvania who have been forced into relying upon outside water now because their water is nonpotable.

Due to concern about what these physicians were seeing, many requested information regarding what chemicals were being used in the fracking process. What was discovered was much resistance to transparency to the public. Physicians in Pennsylvania and other states have been forced into signing confidentiality agreements promising that they will only use the information for patient treatment. This is effectively a “gag order”. About a dozen state laws are in place due to concerns about chemical exposures to the public from fracking. A nephrologist, Alfonso Rodriquez, MD, is challenging the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection saying that the law is vague and violates the First Amendment rights of physicians.

The energy companies have concerns about their trade secrets of what chemical mixtures they are using being copied by other companies who haven’t invested in finding what works best for fracking. This is a legitimate concern, but it must be weighed against the health of the public. There should be complete transparency by the energy companies regarding what chemicals they are using. If they have concerns about trade secrets, they could certainly reveal all of the possible chemicals that might be used without giving specific details of their exact mixture; this is much like what is done with food products which non-specifically list their ingredients and don’t impair their ability to provide a custom-made product that they can still protect. At least the public could have some idea about what might be a problem rather than leaving everyone in the dark about their health being possibly negatively affected.