For those who do not know, Yediot Ahronot (“Latest News”) is the largest paper in Israel, easily outselling all the rest combined. For those who do not know, too, on the list of countries with the highest life-expectancy Israel occupies the eighth place (2015 data). Ahead of it are Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Spain, Iceland and Italy. Behind it are not only the United States—which, in this respect, is a notorious failure—but some of the world’s most admired welfare states. Among them are Sweden, France, Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Austria, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Finland, and Germany. And Denmark. That Denmark, incidentally, which by some data has the happiest people and highest quality of life in the world; making one wonder what the various statistics really mean, if indeed they mean anything at all.
And what, the reader may well ask, does this list have to do with Yediot? Simple. Opening the paper’s electronic edition, known as YNET, I have collected, over a period of one month, all the headlines in the column devoted to explaining the terrible things that threaten the health of ordinary Israelis. They are as follows:
31.7.2016. “How to Guard against Dangerous Apps;” “Dangers Post-Partum Women Are Not Aware of;” “Warning Signs that Show Your Baby is Not Developing Properly.”
1.8.2016. – – – –
2.8.2016. “Danger: Trampolines;”
3.8.2016. “Dangerous Water: How We Started Drinking Too Much.”
4.8.2016. “Report: A Product Containing Salmonella May Have Been on Sale;” “Air Conditioning in the Children’s Room; Healthy or Dangerous?” “Can Tests for Papilloma Be Trusted at All?” This issue also contained reports about the dangers of serving beer from glasses that do not show the amount of liquid they contain and of getting drunk while on board aircraft.
6.8.2016. “A Guide for Those Who Ate Cornflakes and Suffer from Diarrhoea.”
9.8.2016. “Coffee and Cake as Caloric Disasters.”
10.8.2016. – – – –
11.8.206. “Readers’ Comments on Health-Related Articles Might Be Bad for You.”
12.8.2016. “Because of the Heat: Damage to the Body;”
13.8.2016. “The Deadly Cycle of Smoking;” “Not Just Salmonella; the Pollution We All Suffer from” [air pollution]; “The Wikipedia of Disasters; Can Smartphones Save Humanity?” “Came for a Checkup—and Were Infected with Hepatitis C.”
14.8.2016, “Watch the Salmonella Germ Entering the Body—Stage by Stage.”
15.8.2016. “Children’s Dreams, a Cause for Worry.”
16.8.2016. “Look What Happened to a Boy Who Swallowed a Toy Dog.”
17.8.2016. “Dangerous Screens: How Smartphones and Computers Damage Eyes;” “To Increase Peoples’ Awareness of Rare Diseases.”
18.8.2016. “Five Exercises You Do Not Get Right in the Gym;” “Where Half of All ‘Deaths in the Cradle’ Take Place;” “How Jetlag Makes You Fat;” “The Dangerous Germs that Enter Your Food.”
19.8.2016. “When the Body Wears Out;” “The IVF Treatment that Endangers Fetuses;”
21.8.2016. “Obese Women Have Obese Children;” “The Children Run a Temperature? Wait with the Medicines” (so as not to damage the immune system); “Are You Addicted to Sugar? Let’s Check;” “A Doctor Explains; The Danger of Home Delivery.”
22.8.2016: “When Deficient Hearing Arrives: From Denial to Acceptance;” “Who Conceals the Damage Caused by Natrium;” “Incredible: The Amount of Salt in Supermarket Food.”
23.8.2016: “Forty Million Shekel (about $ 10,000,000) for Combating cutaneous leishmaniasis (a rare disease affecting people who live in the Dead Sea area); “Does Your Mouth Feel Dry? Ten Possible Reasons;” “Antibiotics for Children; Increased Risk of Diabetes.”
24.8.2016: “Healthy or Unhealthy? How Many Cups of Coffee You Should Drink Each Day;” “Thousand-Calorie Salads; Culinarian Mines in Restaurants;”
25.8.2016: “Why Widowers Die Earlier.”
26.8.2016: “Prepare for Problems: When Chronic Disease Meets Your Pension Fund;” “Why Native Israelis Suffer More from Lymphoma;” “Went Abroad for a Kidney Transplant and Came Back Deadly Sick.”
27.8.2016. “Why Mosquitoes Bite You” (this, immediately following an announcement that Israel’s health authorities have decided to launch an anti-Zika campaign).
28.8.2016. – – – –
29.8.2016. “Nurses in Baby Ward: Only by a Miracle Was a Disaster Prevented;” “Seven Bad Things You Didn’t Know Running Does to the Body;” “Sweet Corn of Breakfast; Think of Healthier Alternatives.”
Since the website changes several times a day, I may have missed a few. Over 30 days, the total number of identified dangers was 47. The maximum number per day was 4, the average 1.56. Only 3 days, or 10 percent of the total, were danger-free (an oversight, in all probability). Some dangers are common, others so rare that few people have heard of them. Some are widespread, others limited to certain groups of the population. Some are occasioned by food, some by exercise (or by the lack of it, though this particular list does not contain any such), some by doctors and medicines, and some by all kinds of activities or gadgets. At least one is caused by public opinion as reflected by the “talkbackists” (as Israelis call those who respond to newspapers articles).
In Israel, and by no means only in Israel, some people would argue that a long life expectancy and the drumfire of warnings are two sides of the same coin. The warnings, they say, lead to awareness and awareness leads to preventive action. But one could equally well maintain that they lead to stress and stress, to illness. In other words, that health and life expectancy would have been higher without them; for surely one of the most important, perhaps the most important, benefit of good health is not having to worry about it.
And the name of the column in which all these terrible disasters are listed? Nothing else than “Health and Fitness.” George Orwell would have laughed.