Patrick M. Krueger – TRANSCRIPT
Education saves lives. In fact, we could save 145,000 lives every single year if all adults in the United States had at least a high school degree. I know this because I’m a demographer. Demographers study populations. My research focuses on the health of the entire population of the United States. To me, each one of you is one in a million. Well, actually, you’re one in about 320 million people in the US right now.
Doctors and demographers think about health differently. Doctors focus on sick people. If you have cancer, heart disease, broken bones, or bad knees, then you need to see a doctor. Demographers focus on the health of everyone in the population, the sick and the healthy, or as I like to say, the sick and the not yet sick because all of us are going to die someday. Death is always funny.
As a demographer, I try to find ways to improve the health of an entire population, not just those who are already sick. And my research shows that if all adults in the United States had at least a high school degree, we could save 145,000 lives every single year. To put that number in perspective, that’s the number of lives we could save if all current smokers in the United States quit smoking right now.
That’s the number of lives we could save if we eliminated all accidental deaths, including deaths from car crashes, falls, overdoses, and poisonings. That’s the number of lives we could save if we eliminated all suicides and all homicides two and a half times over, every single year. Most of us think that doctors are the first line when it comes to protecting health, but doctors can’t cure what ails us.
Americans already spend two to three times as much on health care as residents of other high-income countries, but we lag behind those countries when it comes to survival. In other words, we pay for better health care than Switzerland, yet we have shorter lives than Slovenia.
The average person sees a doctor for just about two hours per year. That comes out to about seven days total over the course of your entire lifetime. In that short amount of time, your doctor can check your blood pressure or your cholesterol and recommend a new drug to treat your most vexing medical problem. But your doctor already has too little time to help you quit smoking, to encourage you to wear your seat belt, or to treat you for drug and alcohol abuse. And no matter how good your doctor, she simply cannot write you a prescription to eliminate poverty or to build you a safer neighborhood with healthier housing.