SARS? Worse yet!
by: Mike Lushington  

            It seems that we are selective in the things we fear that will kill us. SARS has a great many people terrorized. They will not travel to Toronto, they do not want to go anywhere where there will be a gathering of strangers and they seem to want to shut down the world until a cure or an effective treatment for this terror can be found. At the same time, the things that routinely kill us in great numbers continue to be largely ignored.

            Frankly, I am confused by this contradiction in our values and our fears. SARS is a nasty disease, undoubtedly. It caught the world's medical and scientific communities by surprise and continues to baffle them on several fronts. However, the latest figures, world-wide, indicate that several hundred people will die from it over the next little while.

            Somewhere around five hundred people will have died this winter in New Brunswick alone from complications caused by the common cold, or from influenza. Hundreds more will have succumbed to various cancers, heart disease and other killers that, I guess, have become so commonplace that they are hardly worthy of note, at least in the media.

            SARS doesn't really scare me, either personally or as a member of the community. But here is something that does. There was an article in the Telegraph-Journal a couple of weeks ago (on April 11th, as I remember). It had to do with what the medical profession in North America is calling a real epidemic. It is the disastrous rise in incidence of Type Two Diabetes, sometimes also called Adult Onset Diabetes, in young children. This has always been a disease that is associated with adults, usually of fifty years of age or older. In the last ten years, the number of incidents in children of twelve years or younger - some as young as six - has increased to ten times what it was.

            SARS kills a small percentage of the people who contract it. Usually (not always, I realize) its victims are older; the rest recover. The outlook for the young victims of Type Two Diabetes is much, much grimmer. No, it does not kill right away; instead it sentences its victims to kidney failure, heart disease, blindness and suppressed ability to fight infection - all by the time they are in their thirties or forties. In other words, this disease, until quite recently one of the older members of society, has suddenly begun to target our children, in startlingly large numbers. Yet, apart from that one article I have heard nothing, no outcry of dismay, no demands for increased government funding to address the solution. It is as though this tragedy has already been accepted as a normal risk of life.

            Could it be because we know the causes? Could it be that we can control them, without having to make a huge financial commitment to find some exotic cure, instead of making some serious but fundamental lifestyle chances? Type Two Diabetes is caused by over eating and under exercising. Nearly fifty percent of our children today are overweight. nearly forty percent of them are grossly so. They do no exercise - at home, at school , or in their recreation. They are the candidates for this disease and they are everywhere around us.

            I shudder to think that I have become so cynical as to fear that society has lost the capacity for self-responsibility. We demand that our government fund the medical profession to find a vaccine for SARS, but we will not take the simple step of getting our kids off the coach, out of the potato chip bag and on their feet - even if it just might save their lives.


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