Maybe It’s the Yodeling?

Quick, name 4 things the Swiss are famous for: cheese, chocolate, Heidi, and here’s one you might have missed: the outstanding health of its citizens.

Quick, name 4 things the Swiss are famous for: cheese, chocolate, Heidi, and here’s one you might have missed: the outstanding health of its citizens.

Switzerland and the United States have a lot in common. We’re both rich democracies and fiercely capitalistic. We both have powerful insurance and pharmaceutical industries and we both pay through the nose for health care – the U.S. has the world’s most expensive health care, the Swiss come in a distant second. So it’s baffling then why there’s such a big difference between our 2 countries when it comes to health outcomes. Switzerland beats us by a long shot. There’s plenty of good evidence to show this – here are new 2010 stats from the World Health Organization:  the average life expectancy for a woman in Switzerland is age 84, compared to age 76 for a woman in the United States. And there’s a breakdown for average healthy life expectancy: for a woman in Switzerland it’s age 76, as compared to an American woman’s age 72.  

Ask a health policy expert the reason the Swiss are healthier than us and the answer is simple: everyone in Switzerland has (and must have) health insurance. Families pay for it themselves – and just like here, it’s expensive. The average monthly premium for a family is about $750. The government subsidizes low-income citizens. In Switzerland, however, insurance companies are not allowed to make a profit on basic care and are prohibited from cherry-picking only young and healthy applicants. They can make money on supplemental insurance, however, and that’s what jacks up the cost. But it allows for important extras like private rooms and access to specialists. 

Maybe those healthy Swiss residents are staying that way thanks to the Clinique La Prairie in Montreux – arguably the world’s most famous medical clinic and spa. It’s a luxurious health spa where movie stars and celebs have been going since the 1930’s for anti-aging treatments – like the clinic’s top secret rejuvenating cell therapy. The clinic has long believed that the fountain of youth isn’t just face creams and face lifts, but that if you can boost the immune system with cellular therapy, you can slow down the aging process. Now, the truth is that Swiss health insurance won’t pay for these treatments, or for cosmetic surgery or other beauty services, but Clinique La Prairie is setting new standards for medical spas. With a staff of about 80 doctors who cover 25 different specialties, in addition to plastic surgery and dermatology (which you’d expect) they have state of the art operating rooms for orthopedic and gynecological surgery, as well as a menopause center. In fact, many local women get their mammograms at the clinic.  (I bet they’re leaving with a few free samples of the famous in-house skin care products, too.)

Since a one-week stay at Clinique La Prairie costs about $20,000, here’s a cheaper way to boost your immunity, and perhaps slow down the clock. I recommend you try Dr. Oz’s five favorite immune-booster foods: sardines, papaya/carrot juice, miso soup, elderberries and garlic. There, don’t you feel better already just knowing how much money you saved? 

But back to the Swiss – because in addition to universal health insurance and spas, they have important health lessons we can take home. Women in Switzerland die from heart disease at a rate that’s half the rate for U.S. women. (177/100K of American female deaths versus 88/100K for Swiss women.)  I don’t think the Swiss have better cardiologists and emergency rooms than we do, so I wonder if this next statistic tells the story. In an international ranking of obesity that included nearly 30 countries,the U.S is #1. Switzerland is second from last.

And here’s something else that’s new and quite intriguing, a lesson uniquely Swiss. The secret of good heart health, according to Swiss experts in preventative medicine, may be the mountains! The higher up you live, the less likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke. No one knows exactly how altitude makes you healthier (except that it doesn’t seem to be lifestyle); but one hypothesis is that you may get more Vitamin D from the sunshine. So, when I finally take that hike up a mountain – I’ll remind myself that the clean air and soaring views are not just good for my soul, they may be good for my heart.

Q: I end up overeating because it makes me feel better and I never really get full. I'd like to lose weight but this makes it hard. Any suggestions?

A: Being persistently hungry can cause big trouble. So can overeating for comfort/pleasure. These two behaviors, say researchers from Baylor University's Children's Nutrition Research Center, are controlled deep within your brain by serotonin-producing neurons, but operate separately from each other — one in the hypothalamus, the other in the midbrain. They both can, however, end up fueling poor nutritional choices and obesity.

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