Freedom has become the political buzzword of the 21st century. George Bush's agenda is to bring democracy and freedom to the rest of the peoples of the world, while his own are slaves to work, crippled by personal debt, and trapped in loneliness or loveless relationships the shackles of the rich. Now that the surviving Afghanis and Iraqis are enjoying the benefits of Western freedoms, what will this mean for their health? No empirical studies have explored the relation between the extent of freedom allowed by political regimes and the effect on a nation's health until now.
OK, I agree that calling all Americans crippled, trapped, lonely, and loveless is a bit much. And the fact that the acting editor of the BMJ is a sports writer who specializes in covering cricket matches doesn't give him a lot of credibility to comment on world health or America's state of freedom. But The Effect of Democracy on Health: Ecological Study, the article referenced in the editorial, actually is pretty interesting. The summary points:
Data now available make it possible to measurethe global impact on health of a wide range of political andeconomic variables
Freedom ratings can be used as proxies toexplore the effects of democracy on other variables
After acountry's wealth, level of inequality, and the size of its publicsector are adjusted for, democracy has a beneficial effect onhealth
Maybe I just don't have enough "shackles of wealth" to qualify as an American to the BMJ's acting editor's mind, but I value the freedoms I have as a U.S. citizen, and defend them zealously. That they correlate with better health doesn't surprise me. But how to teach docs to prescribe health-giving freedom to their patients? Hmm. I'll leave that one up to you...