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Advocating for Action Toward a Healthier Society

Sample Letters to the Editor

Sample 1.

Your Sept. 12 news article reports that Americans' life expectancy is increasing. Should we be elated? It all depends on what the yardstick is. Do we give the Olympic gold medal to the first-place finisher, or to the one who did better than last year?

While life expectancy in the United States has indeed increased, it has done so for the entire century. Japan, however, has led the pack since 1977 and does so while spending only about 6.5% of its gross national product on health care. The United States, near the bottom of all the rich countries in life expectancy, spends about 15% of its gross national product on health care.

The major cause of our dismal showing is the widening income distribution between the rich and poor (Front page, Sept. 14). No other factor has been shown to infuence a nation's health more than measures of income distribution: a country with a more unequal income distribution than another country will have a lower life expectancy.

Stephen Bezruchka, Seattle
(Published in the Editorial Page of the New York Times September 19, 1997)

Sample 2.

Japan's refusal to accept our idea that it shold have a crisis (front page, April 21) speaks well for a different measure of health than economic growth. If a society is measured by life expectancy, Japan has been on top since 1976. The United States ranked 26th in 1994.

How does Japan achieve such health? Not by following the usual advice given in the United States. The proportion of Japese males who smoke is twice that in the United States, yet their death rates from smoking are far less. Japan does not need incrased competition in medicine, as your article suggests. It spends less than half of what we do per capita on health care and achieves far more.

The notions of "giri-ninjo" (duty and empathy) account for Japan's health. Social cohesion, not medical care, is the magic potion. It is measured by income distribution, which is more closely associated with life expectancy than any other measure.
Stephen Bezruchka, M.D., Seattle
(Published in the Editorial Page of the New York Times April 24,

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