Alt-Health: A Hazard to Your Health

warning-1646872_960_720When a nuclear bomb explodes, the damage it inflicts does not occur solely at the point of impact. Even more insidious are the shock waves and emanating fallout, which seep, cancer-like, into the surrounding soil and air, gradually poisoning and eroding the earth and sky for miles past the smoking crater.

In Washington, DC, we are seeing the aftermath of a political explosion. In the chaos of its epicenter, Republicans and Democrats still stumble through the detritus, but the fallout and shockwaves have reached far beyond the capitol. The spirit of our very nation has become eroded, and it is taking a toll on our health.

Even the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) is concerned. Their editorial, “Health Effects of Dramatic Societal Events — Ramifications of the Recent Presidential Election,” published June 8, paints a somber picture of the price of politically induced stress.

Every election stirs the pot. Stoked by expectation, the outcome of a campaign triggers extreme ups and downs for each side. The winners feel a positive, though sometimes short-lived, burst of vigor and victory; the losers grumble and lick their wounds. But this year, winners and losers alike seem to be still at war; and there is no sign of a truce in sight.

We cannot place the blame entirely on Trump. Since the Obama election, a division has been growing among constituents, with hate websites and resentment seething right alongside the renewed of hope and optimism of so many. But now, Trump’s outspoken, unfiltered rhetoric and bullying attitude seem to have unleashed a torrent of intolerance, racial prejudice and xenophobia that has burst to the surface and is fast approaching a furious boil.

The NEJM editorial outlined some interesting correlations between our new national attitude and the growing health crises in our communities.

A survey of elementary and high school teachers shows that over half of them report that since the 2016 presidential campaign began, many more of their students had been showing hostility and felt “emboldened” to use racial slurs and make bigoted remarks about minorities, immigrants and Muslims. Kids who were targeted were frightened and anxious. Many worried that their families could be arrested or sent away. Research from small, nonrepresentative samples shows that teens who experience incidents of racial discrimination could expect diminished stress response, elevated hormone levels and premature aging as early as age 23.

Recent studies have found another disturbing trend: Communities with high levels of racial prejudice also have an elevated risk of disease and death. The mortality risk was highest for the more tolerant citizens who lived in highly prejudiced communities. Another study showed that both black and white residents had an elevated risk of heart disease in high-prejudice counties, with only a slightly higher rate among blacks than whites. A recent 38-state survey found that Hispanics had higher rates of mental illness in states with the strictest stances toward immigrants.

Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals residing in communities with high levels of antigay prejudice had a risk of death three times that of their counterparts in low-prejudice communities.

If history bears out,Trump’s proposed cuts in medical and social services will further damage the nation’s health. When Reagan made reductions in these programs in 1981, a million people were dropped from the food stamps program and a million children lost school meals. Over 250 community health centers were closed; the Women, Infants, and Children program lost 2/3 of its funding; and 600,000 citizens lost Medicaid. There was immediate impact on the health of pregnant women, children and adults with chronic disease. A lack of prenatal care led to increased infant mortality and preventable childhood diseases. Adults with hypertension who were dropped from Medicaid suffered deteriorating health. And with Trump’s sword of deportation now hanging over their heads, many immigrants have already taken to avoiding much-needed  health care and social services.

But immigrants and minorities are not the only ones in danger. Right now, death from drug overdose is the LEADING cause of death in our country for all people under 50. At the same time, Republicans in both the house and the senate are proposing big cuts to Medicaid that will endanger addiction treatment for the many people who receive it through government-funded programs. If our lawmakers are successful, the effects could be catastrophic.

I know that the comedians love him, and Trump certainly provides us with many entertaining “what the f__k??!!” moments with his late-night tweets. But as far as the welfare of our country goes, it is time to declare the POTUS a national health hazard — and his policies, a spreading epidemic.

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