Opinion: Who is responsible for my health?

Clark County Today Administrator Heidi Wetzler challenges our leaders ‘to put as much energy and vigor into encouraging a healthier society, as they have in safeguarding the population from COVID-19

Should Frito Lay management be held responsible if their customers die from high blood pressure after a lifetime of consuming the company’s high sodium chips? If someone develops Type 2 diabetes from drinking too many sugary drinks – who is to blame for that? The soda pop manufacturers, or the consumer, or the FDA who approved such a nutritional tragedy? The rise of social media platforms directly correlates with the rise of both anxiety and depression. Who do we hold accountable for that? Should we as a society, have freedom over our own health choices, or should that be the government’s responsibility?  Should one person or entity be responsible for the health of another? Or are we ultimately responsible for ourselves? I argue it’s the latter.

Heidi Wetzler, Clark County Today administrator
Heidi Wetzler, Clark County Today administrator

One could make an argument that the governing powers-that-be in America have never been overly interested in keeping their citizens healthy and alive. The fact that so many companies are allowed to produce outrageously unhealthy food and drink products that contribute to the staggering levels of obesity in this country sits in juxtaposition with the aggressively overreaching governmental COVID-19 response, where suddenly saving every life trumps every other social, economic, and psychological factor.  Don’t misunderstand me, I wholeheartedly believe that every single life is precious and any life lost is to be grieved. But the hypocrisy I’m witnessing regarding the fight to keep everyone “safe” during this pandemic is a little perplexing, based on the freedoms we have long enjoyed – to slowly kill ourselves.

I would imagine that nearly every US citizen is fairly aware of what a healthy diet looks like. And are equally aware of what types of foods cause poor health outcomes.  The question I raise today is “Should people have the freedom to eat whatever they want, and enjoy a sedentary lifestyle, even if it makes them unhealthy? Or contributes to their premature death in the event of a pandemic?”  Historically, the accepted societal answer to this query would have been yes. For argument’s sake, should people have the freedom to decline the COVID-19 vaccine, even if it means that they could come down with COVID-19 and possibly die? To be consistent, the collective response of our society should be yes.

In the era of COVID-19, the idea that each of us is responsible for the health of others is a new one. Six hundred thousand Americans die of cancer every year. Have we ever considered masking a whole society in order to protect the compromised immune systems of those going through chemotherapy? Have we ever been accused of accidentally killing someone if we go to work with a cold – and then proceed to give the cold to our co-worker, who then brings it to her grandma, who then contracts pneumonia and dies? The argument that those who are choosing to receive this vaccine are somehow doing so for the benefit of others is a weak one. If you believe it protects you and feel safe getting it, then great! But forcing an experimental therapy upon an entire population is nothing more than a reckless strong-armed attempt at control. Let me have the freedom to protect myself how I see fit, which is doing everything I can to keep from living with comorbidities, as well as strengthening my immune system. Ninety-four percent of those that died of COVID-19 had comorbidities.  I’ve heard it argued that if only they didn’t get COVID-19, they wouldn’t have died. But what about the opposite idea, that if only they didn’t have comorbidities, they wouldn’t have died. For that thought, I might as well be taken in front of a firing squad.  How dare I propose such a backwards idea.

While I supported the initial discovery period of restrictions and closures while we were learning about this virus, the time for personal choice and regained freedoms is long overdue. Once everyone who wants the vaccine has gotten it, then we simply must open up and regain all sense of normalcy. You can do you, and I can do me. The argument that I am responsible for asymptomatically spreading it to the unprotected is no longer valid. And the exceptions should never make the rule.

I strongly believe that each of us should have the freedom to manage our own health however we please. And with the personal responsibility of one’s health choices, should come a measure of accountability for their consequences. Seventy-eight percent of those hospitalized for COVID-19 were overweight or obese. Obesity is a recognized risk factor for severe COVID-19, which is possibly due to chronic inflammation that disrupts the body’s immune response and impairs lung function. Now what would have happened if such a significant portion of our population did not have comorbidities? It is probable that we wouldn’t have seen nearly as many infections and deaths and the entire trajectory of our national COVID–19 response and subsequent irreversible impacts could have been avoided.  I believe we need far more frank, action-oriented conversations about what each of us can do to improve and be responsible for our own health, and boost our own immune systems. And far fewer conversations about the “life-saving” vaccine.

Japan is a thought-provoking example. Twenty-four percent of Japan’s citizens are considered overweight, with an additional 3 percent reported as obese. The latest CDC statistics report that 73.6 percent of Americans are overweight, with 42.5 percent of those recorded as obese.  And obesity, along with other comorbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are likely responsible for the fact that America has had 55 times more deaths than Japan. With a population of only 2.5 times more. A report released by the World Obesity Foundation found there were linear correlations between a country’s COVID-19 mortality rate and the proportion of adults who are overweight.

I understand how my voice thus far could come across as harsh. I know how hard it can be to struggle with health conditions. And to be clear, I fully recognize that the most critical element in COVID-19 deaths is advanced age and obviously there isn’t anything one can do about that number. But I still believe there is much that can be done in leading up to and in spite of that number. Of course, there will always be exceptions. My husband has been dealt an unfortunate genetic hand and has had to work extremely hard his entire life to keep himself in the best health he can. He works on it every day. He is 55 and got COVID-19 last fall. He had mild symptoms. Never a fever. If he hadn’t had the immune system he has worked on for decades, he may not have been as fortunate. My heart breaks for all of those who have lost loved ones and whose lives have been forever changed themselves with chronic COVID-19 related conditions.  I am suggesting today that each of us has the ability and dare I say communal responsibility (if we are ever going to impose lockdowns again) to improve our health in case we are ever met with this type of situation again.

Lastly, if I am going to believe that our leadership really cares about each of our citizens staying healthy and alive, I challenge each one to put as much energy and vigor into encouraging a healthier society, as they have in “safeguarding” the population from COVID-19.

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