“Somebody get me a cheeseburger!” — “Livin’ in the U.S.A.” by The Steve Miller Band



With health care premiums skyrocketing, the health of Americans is a vital economic issue. “Disease and Death in America: A Poor Bill of Health,” a July article in The Economist, states that our national health habits and our costly health care system are interrelated. Apparently, we still eat too many burgers and not enough plant-based foods like vegetables, grains, fruits and nuts. We sit too much and exercise too little. 



The news is not all bad. Mexico has overtaken the U.S. as the most obese country in the world. And a significant drop in childhood obesity occurred recently for the first time in many years.



Floridians are comparatively healthy. The 2012 Center for Disease Control report ranks Florida as only the 10th most obese state in the U.S., with 25.2 percent obese residents. Coloradans are the most fit, with just over 1 in 5 obese residents. And Louisiana, with a 34.7 percent obesity rate, supplanted Mississippi for the first time in eight years as the most obese state in the U.S. 



Pedestrian and bicycle friendly residential areas like Rosemary Beach, Seaside, stretches of 30A around Seagrove, Sandestin and Scenic Highway 98 in Miramar Beach offer excellent exercise opportunities within an urban setting. That fitness is a daily regimen for locals as well as for tourists can be easily observed. Planned communities of the future that incorporate these walking, jogging and bicycle friendly design elements will appeal greatly to home buyers and visitors.



Some regions of the U.S. are negatively influencing our overall national health care statistics and simultaneously driving up health care costs. “Parts of West Virginia and Mississippi fare worse than Bangladesh and Algeria (in life expectancy rates),” says The Economist. Meanwhile, women in Marin County, Calif., and men in Fairfax County, Va., have life expectancies that “rival those of Switzerland and Japan.” 



A University of Washington study notes that heart and pulmonary disease are the fastest growing illnesses in the U.S. “The top driver of disease is a bad diet,” says The Economist. “Americans (gobble) sodium, processed meats, trans fats and sweet drinks.”



The Washington study reveals that life expectancies in the U.S. have increased from 75.2 in 1990 to 78.2 in 2010, which doesn’t sound that impressive. But add three years of longevity to our collective population every 20 years, and by 2100 our average life expectancy will be over 90. The downside is that we’re growing sicker in old age, and this is straining Medicare and health care costs. 



Investors with a respectable retirement nest egg are worried about the escalating premiums of a long term care policy and the possibility that a serious illness in the retirement years could increase the odds of outliving one’s portfolio.



Investing in select dividend payers can sometimes offset these increasing health care costs. Companies who have consistently increased their dividend payout to shareholders, and who actively seek global market opportunities, are oftentimes valid investment choices that enable investors to fight inflation.  As dividend paying companies slowly increase their payouts, these increases serve as the investor’s personal cost of living adjustment.



Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, chartered financial consultant and accredited investment fiduciary, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121~www.arborwealth.net), a fee-only registered investment advisory firm near Sandestin.