Health matters, etc:

The most noticeable difference on TV is the sheer number of ads for prescription drugs.  In Australia, the drug companies are not allowed to advertise prescription drugs direct to the public at all, although they certainly entice doctors with all sorts of innovative promotional gimmicks to encourage them to prescribe particular drugs.


Here in the US, they advertise direct to the public almost non-stop.  I'm sure they have some wonderful and life-enhancing products, but I wonder if this constant advertising of drugs is a healthy thing, on balance.  The way these things are promoted seems likely to lead to a mindset where every minor unhappiness or problem is medicalized, with a chemical solution at hand.


For example, if you're a bit constipated, don't bother changing your diet, just reach for Acme Stool Softener.  A bit shy in company?  Then you must have 'Social Anxiety Disorder'. Yep, we got something to fix that too...Just one slow-release pill each day and you're good to go.  I guess the idea is for people to rush out and badger their doctor to write the prescription, whether he thinks it is needed or not.


Usually at the end of these ads they’ll reel off very quickly a list of possible side effects. I guess they must be required to do this by law.  For example, you might hear a voiceover say ‘possible side effects may include dizziness, nausea, seizures, liver failure and death’. OK, a slight exaggeration, but not by much!


Another difference is that supermarkets are able to sell non-prescription drugs
beyond the Aspirin/Panadol variety. An example would be Sudafed (pseudoephedrine)

and the like that can only be sold in pharmacists at home.  I recall that was about

to be changed in Australia, amid considerable opposition from the pharmacists.


They also have these stores, Walgreens being the main one, which seem to be

pharmacies as well as a kind of supermarket.  They also have 1 hour photo labs.  Many of these are open 24 hours a day - very handy - and also have a drive-up window

where you can get your prescription filled at any hour of the day or night. They have

pharmacists on hand who were able to assist me in working out that a non-prescription

drug of a different name here (Acetaminophen) is actually the same as our Paracetamol (Panadol), for example.

America is widely known as the fattest country in the world, and this is even the

subject of jokes on the late-night comedy shows such as The Tonight Show with

Jay Leno.   Having said that, Australians are supposed to be the second or third

fattest, after the USA.


We tried to observe whether they are fatter than Australians.  In Cali, we thought

they were not at all bigger on average. The areas we were staying in were probably populated by mainly younger people and were fairly affluent.  You see the occasional really large person, but not noticeably more than Australia.


In the South, especially among the poorer sections of the population it is very much

more noticeable.  I believe the apparent ‘epidemic’ of obesity is largely associated

with lower-income groups.  At the Disney theme-parks in Florida, you certainly see

some big people, although many of them turn out to be British tourists.


The Northeast region of North America (NYC, Boston, Montreal etc) seems

markedly less obese than the South.  TIME magazine had a big feature article on

'Obesity in America', including a color-coded map showing which regions had the

most overweight people.  This aligned exactly with our observations; the poorer

areas of the South (particularly Mississippi) were the most obese by far.

The number of Americans without health insurance is a perennial political issue

that never seems to get solved. Kerry is making the point that under Bush the number

of uninsured has risen to about 45 million, having remained steady or declined

somewhat under Clinton.


Maybe it will eventually get addressed, as even some conservatives and business

leaders can now see that it actually costs society more to have so many uninsured

than it would cost to give them some basic coverage.  This is because the uninsured

tend to leave health problems until they become really serious.  The public hospitals

have to treat you if the illness is life-threatening, whether you can pay or not.  So,

the 'working poor' use the emergency room as their doctor, and the government has

to hand money to hospitals to compensate them for treating so many uninsured.

Of course, it costs much more to treat an illness that has become critical than to deal

with it in its earlier stages.


An article in USA Today recently pointed out that health insurance premiums now make up more of the production cost of a GM car than does steel.  The concern is that GM, Ford etc are therefore at a disadvantage competing against manufacturers from most other countries, where health care is funded through the tax system and not directly by employers.


Many Americans are aware that countries such as Canada, Britain and Australia have

universal health insurance for all citizens, with the government acting as ‘single payer’.

However, this model is opposed by the more conservative side of politics as being a

form of socialism.

Another interesting health-related thing is that they do not seem to make their school

children wear hats when outdoors, as we do.  There was a whole bunch of kids on a

field trip at the Georgia beaches (Tybee Island), and there seemed to be no requirement

at all for them to wear hats. Whether they had sunscreen on I do not know.  Our school kids must wear a hat just to go outside at lunchtime, at any time of the year. This has been the case for at least ten years or so in Australia.  Maybe it is different in other parts of the US…


Friends who spent six months or so in France were surprised that the French did not seem to require their schoolchildren to wear hats outdoors either.