I often find blog post topics because my health communicator brain is always on the lookout for interesting tidbits from which I can learn about health.
In 2013, I traveled to Kenya, and after I wrote about stark health care disparities. Last year, after an absolutely wonderful trip to Belize, I wrote about how the incredibly poor country of Belize often struggles to provide specialized care to its youngest citizens.
I recently took a vacation to Costa Rica, and thanks to a record-breaking snow storm at home, I ended up spending three extra nights (making it a total of eight nights in this tropical paradise) and seeing far more of the country than anticipated. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to pull out a blog post from this trip because, to be honest, Costa Rica really seems to have its act together. And then I realized, maybe there’s my blog post.
Costa Rica has a government-run universal health care system called Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, as well as a private health care system. Overall, it’s generally known that health care costs are comparatively low in Costa Rica when compared to the United States. In fact, health care costs are 10 times higher in the United States than in Costa Rica. And what do these lower health care costs get you? Well, apparently, a longer life span.
The World Health Organization places Costa Rica near the top of world rankings for life expectancy, and a study last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences notes that people in Costa Rica live longer than people in the United States, with a life expectancy of 78.5 years in Costa Rica verses 77.4 in the United States.
In particular, the study found while the wealthiest U.S. residents live 3.4 times longer than the poorest, the wealthiest Costa Ricans live only 1.5 times longer than the poorest Costa Ricans, despite a greater income gap in Costa Rica. Smoking, obesity, and lack of health access were cited for why poor Americans don’t live as long as their relatively poor counterparts in Costa Rica. Of note, “U.S. men are four times more likely to die of lung cancer and have a 54 percent higher risk of dying of heart disease than Costa Rican men.”
Why the difference? Is it the warm weather? The miles and miles of beautiful coastline? Well, maybe that actually does have something to do with Costa Rican longevity. In addition to being pretty darn healthy, Costa Rica is also the happiest country. According to the study’s author, “stress, strong family and social networks, and happiness are all factors that are not well understood but likely play an important role in how long someone lives.”
Costa Rica has a national phrase: pura vida, which literally means “pure life” but is often used as a greeting or farewell or to simply assert that things are going well. Is it this pura vida way of living that reduces stress and increases happiness? I was only there for eight days, but I can tell you the Costa Rican way of thinking and living had a big impact on me in that short time.
Pura vida? Yes, I think so.