A few days ago I was talking with my favorite Certified Diabetes Educators, Karen LaVine, about a wide variety of topics. I had mentioned that both my health and my finances are both as good as they ever were.
You know, she replied, that for most people our health is connected to our economics and finances. I told Karen that I hadn’t actually put the two together before, but as soon as she said that I realized how right she is.
I know it from my own life. I have been rich and I have been poor. Being rich is better.
I may not have been rich by American standards, but when I headed the American aid program in one of the 10 poorest countries in the world, Malawi, I was certainly rich by the standards of almost everyone there. The U.S. government gave me a sumptuous residence, a hardship allowance, an entertainment allowance, a car and driver, and a guard. In addition I had a great salary and a staff of eight servants that I had to pay for myself, albeit at the ridiculously low wage rates prevalent in Malawi.
My health could have been better if I had exercised more and ate and drank less. But it was my own laziness, not the state of my pocketbook that kept me from reaching my potential.
After the government sent me back to Washington, I grew bored with the sinecure they gave me and I quit. Soon I experienced being poor, living in a friend’s one-room guest house and just getting by on unemployment insurance and food stamps.
I had plenty of time to exercise and I did. But I didn’t even have enough money for a decent diet. Like most poor people I was limited to the cheapest source of calories, the starches like wheat, potatoes, rice, and corn that we grow in abundance in this country. It’s no wonder that I grew fat.
Within a few years a doctor also diagnosed that I have type 2 diabetes. I attribute my diabetes at least in part of having been poor.
I recovered from poverty by finding work that I love, journalism. Like most everyone, I am able to do well only by doing good work. As I got out of the daily grind and debt, I simultaneously worked my way back to good health. My tools were the only ones that everyone with diabetes has: diet/weight loss, exercise, and medication.
Exercise is inexpensive. Good food, however, costs more than starches, junk food, and empty calories. And medication can be quite expensive.
A couple of days ago I happened to mention to my sister how much my medication, Byetta, means to me. While it costs more than $200 per month, my insurance now pays most of it. I said that even if my insurance stopped reimbursing that cost, I would gladly pay $500 a month for Byetta. She reminded me that like most people she simply couldn’t afford to do that.
The poverty link completely explains to me why our minorities – blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans – have higher rates of type 2 diabetes than other ethnic groups that have a higher standard of living. It explains why the poorest states in the nation have higher rates of type 2 diabetes. This link also goes a long way toward explaining the connection between weight and diabetes.
The link is a correlation, not a cause. The wealthy get diabetes too. The most wealthy man I know has type 2 diabetes. Wealth and health don’t always go together, especially if being wealthy leads to eating too much.
Also, you can certainly be healthy without being rich. Speaking of a $2 billion residential wellness community for the wealthy called Cooper Life at Craig Ranch, Dr. David Satcher, a former surgeon general, says that while he supported anything that furthers wellness, he also cautioned, “I don’t want people to think you need that kind of money to invest to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”
Karen agrees. “A more precise statement of the relationship between health and wealth might be that health is a form of wealth. I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Satcher that it’s an incorrect assumption that one must have wealth to attain health.”
Good health increases your potential to do what you want to do, Karen says. Just like having money does.
Like with our diet, the moral way of life has to be moderate. When we have too much, we can leave too big a footprint on this Earth. Unless we live simply, other simply can’t live.
But when we have too little, it’s too hard to take care of our health. Our bodies are our temples and our only permanent possessions. In our civilization the moral life has to provide enough money for us to maintain the health of the only thing that we truly have.
This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.