Monday, January 14, 2013

Wealth inequality makes us die younger

Too Much
Billboard Project 06
By Larry Chait for the Billboard Project
In the course of my daily travels I am struck by the constant bombardment by printed advertising images.  They appear almost everywhere you look: billboards, the walls of houses, bus shelters, trains and buses (inside and out), the sides of trucks, even benches.  The city of Chicago has recently even started to allow advertising banners on its bridges, to the outrage of many.  Of course, the vast majority of this advertising is trying to sell us products and services that we don't want or need.  I began to question why this is.  I asked myself, "Why can't we be exposed to socially useful messages instead, messages that would educate, inspire or motivate us to take positive action to address the many ills of our society?"  Only the wealthy and powerful can afford to buy space on these prominent locations; the rest of us must resort to handmade protest signs and T-shirts to get our message out.

"The Billboard Project" represents my attempt to redress this imbalance. In these images I have created my own "ideal" world, one that I personally would prefer to live in and move through.  Although for now this world exists only in my photographs, perhaps one day it will become a reality. 

Men and women in distinctly unequal nations like the United States, scientists all across the world have been documenting for several decades now, live shorter, less healthy lives than men and women in more economically equal nations.

Top U.S. health officials recently asked two eminent institutions, the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, to take their own look at the data. The two reported back last week. Americans, they found, do “die sooner and experience more illness” than their counterparts in other developed nations.

Their detailed new report doesn’t explicitly blame this early mortality on inequality. But the report does rule out a slew of other explanations. Do lifestyles, for instance, explain the poor U.S. health performance? Nope. Well-off Americans who don’t smoke — and watch their calories, too — turn out to have more health problems than their counterparts in other wealthy countries. 

In the end, this sobering new study calls for more research. That's what blue-ribbon reports usually do. Maybe the rest of us ought to be calling for something additional. Like more equality.

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