This weekend marks the ten year anniversary of 9/11, a day that impacted the U.S.—and the world—in countless ways. In the years since, Americans have stressed and spent a lot of money over the worry that we might be attacked again; but in the meantime, we’ve largely ignored some of the biggest looming threats to our lives and livelihood: Chronic health problems. Sure, occasionally we all get amped up over who should pay health insurance or how to avoid catching bird flu. But as Scientific American’s Katherine Harmon points out, we’re more focused on preventing deaths through security spending than protecting the public’s health.
Harmon’s article rightly points out that it’s hard to measure the success of any campaign set to prevent death: Whether it’s public health or public safety, there’s no way to say what would have happened had we not spent money on either cause. But she still asks whether the spending might be out of balance: Just take a look at the infographic above to get a sense for how big the difference is in budgets for the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: For ever dollar spent on preventing chronic health problems, just ove five are spent on protecting Americans from terrorists, cyber-attacks and illegal immigrants.
Anyone who can remember 9/11, or the years following, knows that preventing such disasters is more than worthy of our tax dollars. But anyone who’s suffered a heart attack, stroke, cancer or any other life-changing health problem also knows that they’re also disasters worth preventing. And many of them are preventable, and unfortunately, far more likely to occur than another breach in airport security. Harmon points out that while our chances of dying in a plane crash are about one in 20,000, our chances of dying from stroke are one in 23. (And in many cases, strokes are preventable with certain lifestyle changes.)
I’m glad to live in a country where there’s adequate airport security (I hate putting toiletries in ziplocs, true, but I’ve also boarded a plane in Nepal, where I’m pretty sure you could smuggle a live animal without anyone’s noticing). But as much as I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, I’ll say it once more: More of us need to worry about the growing prevalence of obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart failure in our country. These are problems that make us less safe, and make us die. They’re also problems that make it harder for us to work, and cost us in health care. So while I’ll be paying my respects to the victims of 9/11 this Sunday, I’ll also be looking towards the health of those who survived, and I hope you will too.