National Parks, Hiking, and Healthcare in America

“National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” -Wallace Stegner

I am back in the world of cell phones and internet connectivity. I learned many things in a two week hiking tour of the national parks, even something about healthcare in America. First, Canyonlands is lesser known, unpublicized park, but is on par with the Grand Canyon and Yosemite in terms of scenery, with really great hiking. Second, don’t drive your Prius on back country roads in Wyoming in the snow, but that is another story. Finally, getting away from my coastal, parochial view of America can give a few insights about the future of American healthcare.

I saw three things on my Western trip:

1) Obesity has become the new norm for Americans, at least those who are staying in hotels at national parks.
2) Smoking has really decreased among Americans, and is no longer welcome most places.
3) Medical and Surgical subspecialty care is becoming widely available, even in rural areas.

The obesity issue was both shocking and frightening. The incidence of overweight and obese people we ran into, visiting the national parks, and stopping in roadside restaurants, was astonishing. The incidence was at least 40{e62c403cac7b8cc681803c2c1698f145e7e75e28c1e1f16a71410c7fc8558a25}, and afflicted all age groups. The vision of America given on TV does not reflect this truly profound and fundamental change in the nature of our country’s people and their expected healthcare problems. It is easy to pontificate about the impact of obesity in America, but seeing it out in the countryside reinforces the impossible task facing our medical establishment, and the pitiful responses of government and Obamacare. Based upon what I have seen, the impacts will be far worse than most projections. Diabetes and its complications will sink our healthcare system.

On a more optimistic note, I was surprised at how few smokers I saw, and how marginalized they have become. Compared to my last visit to Wyoming, many years ago, the number of people smoking has markedly decreased. Additionally, I saw the new California archetype of the harried smoker, huddling outside in the rain to get a cigarette, in Casper, of all places. I think the message that smoking is bad has reached much of the country, and may result in long term health benefits.

Finally, I saw outpatient Lasik surgery clinics in Moab Utah, plastic surgeons in Ralston Wyoming, and Cancer centers in Grand Junction Colorado. Previously, such smaller towns would have required people traveling many miles for such services. High level specialty care has become widely available, which is a good thing. It will be interesting what happens to these services when payments for such procedures are cut.

Although I am not optimistic about our healthcare system, the beauty of the national park system gives me a personal reason to stay healthy.

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