While the United States suffered its own internal conflicts in the late 1960s, with assassinations and racial tension and anti-war demonstrations, some activists reached across an ocean to help a small population in western Africa.
Folks could not Google the nation Biafra in those days, and the handy World Book encyclopedia had trouble keeping up to date with the changes. Maybe on the evening news, maybe in the school-supplied Weekly Reader, we learned about the famine resulting from a Nigerian civil war.
This southern section of Nigeria seceded in 1967 and remained a state of unrecognized independence for three years. During the conflict, starvation became the weapon of choice.
As Biafran citizens got pushed inland from the coast, federal authorities of Nigeria seemed content to cut off all food supplies, even to noncombatants. A group called the American Committee to Keep Biafra Alive pushed the United States toward a policy of humanitarian relief.
This dreadful and dirty history reared its head in recent times through the sterility of medical science.
Those survivors born during the famine years became unwitting subjects of a study that showed lacking nutrition in early life and even in utero leads to a later-in-life predisposition to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and hypertension.
“Prevention of under-nutrition during pregnancy and in infancy should therefore be given high priority in health, education and economic agendas,” the study from 2010 concluded.
In short, the deficiency of food led to a situation of life-threatening conditions. No big surprise there. Most recognize proper nourishment as a key to enduring good health.
In this time of year, Americans recognize the plenty in their own lives. This nation has been blessed with an abundance of resources. And that, too, can be a problem.
Last week, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association gave new eyes to a phenomenon developing over some time, the decline of life expectancy in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. Bizarrely, people of the United States die at a younger age because of having too much.
Too much in the access to drugs that alleviate pain. Too much in the consumption of food and alcohol. Too much in the pressures of modern life.
Other developed nations, those with money to fend off the scarcities of sub-standard economies, see life expectancy rates rise. What are Americans doing wrong?
To begin, an overflow of good things should never be construed as a road to ruin.
Americans have the pharmacological wherewithal to mass-produce pills that relieve pain. It’s a great thing to ease human suffering. Yet overwrought marketing, over-prescribing and the worst personal impulses made opioids into a catalyst for folks dying before their time.
Lots of food exists, the healthy stuff and other kinds. Glory be for such bounty. Yet unchecked appetites and underused bodies have led to obesity problems that strain the physical system.
“Despite excessive spending on health care, vastly exceeding that of other countries, the United States has a long-standing health disadvantage relative to other high-income countries that extends beyond life expectancy,” last week’s report said.
Somehow in this prodigal land, increasing suicide rates, especially among young and middle-aged adults, have contributed to a declining life expectancy. It’s hard to figure.
Americans should be able to find a sweet spot of satisfaction and well-being. That we haven’t managed this, given all our gifts, seems perplexing.