Health care is a costly affair and the best method to reduce a nation’s medical expenses, is to prevent its citizens from getting sick in the first place. Therefore space settlements should focus on preventive medicine in their health policies.
Apart from the obvious fact that people who are healthy, have greater life satisfaction, preventing people for falling ill has multiple benefits. Sick leave reduces national productivity and hence reduces the general wealth level. Also healthy people live longer and since they are physically fit, they can work longer too – again increasing national wealth.
Particulate matter (PM) is widely known as a serious health risk. Scientific studies show that particulates cause lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, also there is a link between particulate concentration and dementia. Other health effects are:
- respiratory diseases
- low birth weight
- birth defects
- premature death
- teenage delinquency
It is obvious that all these diseases have a substantial negative impact on society. The treatment of people suffering from these diseases is expensive and also they become less productive as a result of their condition and subsequent treatment. By reducing particulate concentration significantly, the government could save a large amount of medical expenses.
Since orbital space habitats will be small, closed structures particulate matter will be an even more serious threat than here on Earth, as particulates cannot go anywhere and they will accumulate over time. Consequently the governments of space settlements should take measurements such as outlawing:
- internal combustion engines
- wood stoves
- bonfires and fireworks
- polluting industries in residential habitats
Also to improve indoor air quality, exhaust hoods should be mandatory in all buildings, including homes, schools, hospitals and offices. Regular inspections should be carried out to look whether those systems are properly maintained.
Another important cause of health problems in modern societies is obesity. Obesity is associated with medical conditions like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer. By the reducing the number of people with obesity, society will save medical expenses.
Obesity has several causes including genetics and life style. Public policy to reduce obesity will obviously be focused on life style change. The challenge for a free society is to encourage citizens to pursue a healthy lifestyle without having to rely upon authoritarian measures.
A traffic light rating system for food will help consumers to select healthy products and such a measure will not affect people’s choices – in fact it improves their ability to make an informed choice. In combination with nudging we can stimulate people to make a more healthy choice.
Nudging is the science of how subtle design changes influence our behaviour. It has been demonstrated that human beings usually go for the easiest option. So by making the healthiest option also the easiest one, people will choose healthier products.
A practical example: in a supermarket people tend to select product which are placed at eye-height. By requiring that healthy products to be placed at eye-height and less healthy products at the top or bottom shelves, people will buy more healthy products. Also we could make the shortest route through the supermarket, the one with the most healthy products.
Price is another method to influence consumer choice. The state can make unhealthy products more expensive by imposing a tax on sugar and fat in food products. Simultaneously healthy products, fruit and vegetables less expensive by subsidizing them. In another post we will discuss sugar and fat taxes in more detail.
Childhood obesity is in particular a very serious issue. By addressing overweight in children, society can prevent a substantial proportion of health issues at a later age. Schools are the frontline in the battle against juvenile obesity.
Scientific research shows that providing free fruit and vegetables and restricting sugar drinks could have a positive both short and long-term on health. It is important to note that one’s bringing up has a substantial influence how one will behave as an adult. Likewise a physical activity program could be implemented in order to improve children’s well-being,
Like obesity, too much sitting is a serious health risk. In this infographic by the Washington Post illustrates the dangers of sedentary life style. In short human beings are not built to sit all day but that is actually what many people do, especially those with office jobs.
Of course, the solution in this case appears to simple: more physical activity and less sitting. However, persuading people to spend less time sitting could be a significant challenge. Nevertheless we should devise some policy to combat the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle.
First of all, people should become aware of the risks of too much sitting. The government should launch a campaign to inform the public of the negative health impacts of a sedentary lifestyle and to present alternatives.
Another tool is through occupational safety and health legislation to force employers to change their office designs. For instance, traditional furniture could be replaced by exercise balls and standing desks. Also lunch walks should be stimulated as both a method to improve employee health as well to promote social bonding.
In general we should seek to ways to combine doing physical exercise with working, rather than seeing those as separate activities. Of course, the government should lead by example and introduce this measures within the civil service – and in modern industrialized nations civil servants easily account for twenty-five percent of the workforce.
A simple but possibly effective measure would be to reduce the number of seats in public transportation. This would mean that commuters are more likely to stand on their way to and from work. Of course, this will not be a very popular measure, in particular in the beginning.
Though particulates, obesity and sitting are not the only risks to public health, but since these three are major problems in modern society, these form obvious and visible targets for a preventive healthcare policy.