Packing Up for Hawaii

April 9, 2019 in Foodland Chronicles, Health, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Reading this title, you’re probably thinking that continued unusual amounts of snow here in the mountain west of the US, has gotten me thinking about escaping to Hawaii. And you’d be wrong if that’s your guess. Despite the snow, warm temperatures and days, and parts of days of sun, are bringing plants to life.  I am loving the opening of gardening season. But in reality, the title came from an intriguing Big Think headline that recently caught my eye; it reads: Where you live affects how long you live. If we want to live longer, should we be moving to Hawaii, California, Minnesota, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Colorado, New Hampshire, or New Jersey (the top 10 for longevity)? Forget the rest of them! We should we be packing up for Hawaii? Don’t forget your sun lotion, swim suit and checkbook! If you enjoy life, this is a worthy thought; as there is more than a 6-year longer lifespan between Mississippi (the shortest) and Hawaii (the longest).

I recognize that there are lots of ways to die, traffic accidents, suicide, getting shot by a random shooter, an airplane crash, but I’m thinking about what causes most of us to die.

  • Heart disease – just under 650,000
  • Cancer – just under 600,000
  • Preventable injury – about 160,000
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease – over 155,000
  • Stroke – just under 150,000
  • Alzheimer’s disease – over 230,000
  • Diabetes mellitus – over 75,000
  • Influenza and pneumonia – a tiny bit over 50,000
  • Nephritis – about 50,000
  • Suicide – under 50,000

The bar chart displaying the leading causes of disease – if you clicked in that link -- is visually striking in explaining why so many people are dying at younger ages in the worst states than in the best ones.  Heart disease (almost 650,000) and cancer (almost 600,000), are the top two causes of death; and they are linked with our lifestyle. If you add those two together (1,250,000) most of the remaining major causes of death are about one tenth. We could add some of the deaths from stroke and diabetes; as many of those deaths are a function of our lifestyle choices. You can probably guess where I’m going with this; I’m trying to point out that how we eat and exercise are a major contributor to when we die. Certainly, if you unfortunately get the flu and die from it, it was probably not how you ate; unless, of course, you were so malnourished that your immune system couldn’t help you. By far, our lifestyle choices have an enormous impact.

The Big Think authors go on to try to explain why people are dying in the worst states by suggesting poverty is behind the higher death rates. They use counties within the states to make  their argument. This argument doesn’t negate what I’m seeing. In study after study, poverty is linked with poor eating habits. Unlike in the past, when being in poverty meant being undernourished; today’s poverty often translates into eating too many inexpensive calories – still poorly nourished, but providing too many unhealthy calories – leading to overweight, obesity, and diabetes. This, of course, is a huge problem that needs the attention of national nutritional programs and experts.

Right after I saw the “where you live” map another map that I’m familiar with popped into my mind – the obesity map of the USA. Overweight and obesity are not just found in the areas of the USA with extreme poverty – be sure to check out the county maps in the Big Think article; or just go to the market; or the mirror to discover that there’s plenty of overweight all around our country.

In my mind, maybe we should stay put (not move from our friends, families and homes) but make efforts to control our weight. Sure, save for the Hawaii ticket; surf; get a little tan; eat tropical fruits and veggies; have a great time and go back home. The Big Think headline was such a fun example of erroneously using epidemiological data to establish a cause and effect relationship. Where you live will probably not cause you to die early. But what you choose to eat is a lot more likely to impact your lifespan. If you eat and exercise like your neighbors, and that lifestyle is not the best, maybe you should consider trading up for a Hawaiian or California eating/exercising lifestyle. Good lifestyle choices can be made in any state.