Health and wealth

A headline I saw earlier this week reminded me of one of my dad’s old sayings. Dad had a way of taking an adage and giving it a wry twist. After he said it you’d think he said it wrong, but then you’d smile as you realized his version usually had a lot more wisdom than the original.

The headline had to do with a study profiled this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study showed that wealthy people have longer life expectancy rates than poor people.

That reminded me of when Dad would say, “Son, it’s better to be rich and healthy than to be poor and sick.”

Usually I had heard it said that it’s better to be poor and healthy than rich and sick, an old chestnut about the importance of having one’s health, but there was no denying the obvious truth in Dad’s version.

There are a lot of obvious reasons why wealthy people tend to live longer. A lot has to do with the way they live. They eat healthier food. They tend to live in better homes. Thye are less likely to smoke. They have time and money for healthy activities, like tennis at the club with Muffy and Biff. They are less likely to be obese, or live with a great deal of stress.

But also, they tend to have a close personal relationship with the family doctor, usually involving regular checkups and tests. If they feel sick they call for an appointment and get it checked out.

All too often, poor people don’t go to see the doctor at the first sign of disease. They wait, hoping they’ll get better before they have to go to the doctor. Not until they are good and sick do they head to the clinic or emergency room.

There really shouldn’t be a reason for this kind of a longevity gap. People of all income levels can learn to live like rich people in many important respects. People can make healthy food choices. It isn’t that expensive to buy fresh vegetables and fruit, and to cook healthy meals at home. People can quit smoking. They can get daily exercise without having a gym membership.

The Hearts Beat Back-Heart of New Ulm project has been working to establish that philoshophy in people. They have a lot of ways to help you live as long as rich people, without really having to be rich.

You shouldn’t have to have a million dollars to feel like a million dollars, as Dad would say.

Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at