Last week, for the first time in US history, a patient infected with Ebola was brought to the United States for treatment. Another American, also infected, arrived in the United States on Tuesday, August 5 for treatment.
Due to the extreme nature of Ebola, which often kills those who become infected, it is apparent that much of the public fears the spread of the disease within the United States. In the past week, this seems to be the only thing that anyone can talk about.
At present, West Africa is experiencing the worst Ebola outbreak in history. It is a disease with no known cure and a high fatality rate. Accordingly, federal officials are working expeditiously to create a vaccine.
With that said, the spread of Ebola within the United States is highly improbable. A large part of the reason it has spread so rapidly in West Africa is due to the lack of medical resources in the region, as well as poor infrastructure.
The United States, on the other hand, has the resources and infrastructure to contain the spread of such a disease. Likewise, as Joshua Keating notes for Slate, "a number of factors have combined to make this the most deadly Ebola outbreak in history, and most of them are political rather than biological."
Additionally, news recently broke that a man had arrived at an NYC hospital with signs of Ebola. He had been traveling in West Africa, prompting fears that he may have been exposed.
The CDC has warned doctors to take any signs of Ebola seriously, particularly from patients that have been traveling in West Africa. While the findings are still inconclusive, it is notable that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has said that the man is unlikely to have the disease.
Yet, while the public is distracted by the current stories surrounding Ebola, Americans are dying at an exponential rate from something completely different.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the CDC, about 600,000 Americans die from heart disease every single year. That's about the same number of Americans who died in the Civil War... only that occurred over the course of four years.
Some fast facts from the CDC:
This is something that's happening right in front of us, it's not a foreign disease we are unfamiliar with. Diabetes, obesity, poor diet, alcohol abuse and lack of physical activity all increase the risk of heart disease.
One of the leading culprits in this trend is something that Americans are consuming at high rates every single day: sugar.
According to the Harvard Health Blog, participants in a 15-year study were twice as likely to die from heart disease if added sugar made up 25% or more of their daily calories as compared to those who consumed significantly less.
"Overall, the odds of dying from heart disease rose in tandem with the percentage of sugar in the diet—and that was true regardless of a person's age, sex, physical activity level, and body-mass index (a measure of weight)."
Moreover, as the American Heart Association notes, a majority of Americans consume more than twice what most doctors would recommend in terms of daily added sugar intake.
"A report from the 2001-04 NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) database showed that Americans get about 22.2 teaspoons of sugar a day or about 355 calories."
This is well over the recommended amount of no more than 100 calories per day for women and no more than 150 calories per day for men.
Simply put, Americans consume far too much sugar, and it is leading to the deaths of thousands of people.
This startling info-graphic from Forbes places America's tragic love affair with sugar into context:
As noted above, sugar is as addictive as cocaine, and it leads to a number of conditions related to heart disease.
Accordingly, sugar is one of the top killers in the United States, yet we continue to consume it at rates far beyond what any doctor would recommend.
Additionally, according to an article from Huffington Post, sugar can dramatically increase the risk for heart disease.
Likewise, the article notes, a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association revealed that sugar has a detrimental impact on the pumping mechanism of the heart. Consequently, it increases the risk for heart failure:
The findings specifically pinpointed a molecule from sugar (as well as from starch) called glucose metabolite glucose 6-phosphate (G6P) that was responsible for the changes in the muscle protein of the heart. These changes could eventually lead to heart failure. Approximately half of the people that are diagnosed with heart failure die within five years.
It's sad that, as a society, we are so easily distracted by the unfamiliar. This is not to say that the Ebola epidemic does not merit a great deal of attention. It is an extremely deadly illness, and West Africa does not have the resources to contain it.
With that said, it is positive that the CDC has granted so much attention to the issue, as the region will need all of the help and resources it can get.
At the same time, it is somewhat self-centered that Americans seem more concerned by the prospect of the disease spreading to the United States, rather than the fact that it has already spread across several nations in Africa.
In essence, it's important to keep things in perspective. This recent Ebola outbreak is unlikely to impact the United States, but that does not mean we should not be helping those already affected.
In fact, recent reports have shown that the two Americans infected with Ebola have shown significant improvement after being administered an experimental drug. Thus, there are many reasons to be optimistic.
Furthermore, it's important for the United States to continue to combat the real health problems that converge upon it, such as obesity and heart disease.
People might begin by seriously considering the amounts of sugar that they consume each day. Studies have shown that high sugar intake not only leads to heart disease, but can also be linked to cancer and brain damage.
This is not to say that eating a Snickers this afternoon will kill you, but that everything should be done in moderation. Additionally, there is no harm in becoming more educated on an issue that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
Heart disease is a very real problem in the United States, and there is no better time than now to begin addressing it.
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