I think the most important book on health for the last fifty years or more is “The Status SyndromeThe Status Syndrome by Michael Marmot (Henry Holt & Co. 2004).

It is about health in the richer countries. It shows that after poverty is no longer the problem (with malnutrition, dysentery etc) the most important factor for health is social status. This means two things – the extent of our social participation and the amount of control we have over our own lives.

Put briefly our brain is the most important organ for our health

– more important than our lungs and heart (or our kidneys and liver, or any other of our organs for that matter). This doesn’t mean the other organs aren’t incredibly important too, only that social status is more important than any one of them.

This finding is based on studying thousands of individuals in Whitehall in England over a span of 25 years. It is an extraordinarily exhaustive and meticulous piece of research. Thankfully the book doesn’t read like a scientific paper full of jargon. It is easy and accessible to read. Thankfully too, the author is no egotist.

He has this to say about the need to travel and look at health in different countries.

It is not just that health researchers like to travel. We do, but I am such a nerd that when I travel I come back not with holiday pictures but with heart-disease statistics. Have you seen the beaches in Cuba? Yes, and life expectancy here is 73.7 for men and 77.5 for women. What did you think of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg? Wonderful, but life expectancy in Russian has sunk to fifty-seven for men and seventy-two for women. (p.3)

This means the need to rethink the whole way that western medicine looks at health. We as individuals are deeply affected by our connections to others (how much we can influence our own lives and how much we can participate in our society). This could lead to a genuine revolution that would bring us all better health. It is an extraordinarily important book.

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