Yesterday I wrote about the lack of mental exercise on the part of the vast majority of Hungarians. Continuing education is still a foreign concept although a serious effort is underway to make the idea more attractive. Fitness is also becoming a topic of conversation. Fitness centers are fashionable, especially in well-off circles. The prime minister himself is very fit. Not a pound extra on him. In fact, some of his female admirers (judging from the comments on his blog) are outright worried about his weight. He is a very tall, lanky guy who often talks about a healthy lifestyle. He blogs about what he eats for lunch (practically nothing) or what he does early morning in the fitness center. Several times a week he runs. Not just a couple of miles but half a marathon. The former prime minister is an avid soccer player, but judging from his appearance I don't think that he stuck to a rigorous training program. As far as I know neither man smokes. That is rather unusual in Hungary where over 40% of all adult (and not so adult) males smoke.
There is a lot of talk in the media about dieting, and more and more people are trying to lose weight. There is a whole clinical unit that deals with the overweight and the obese. The results are about as dismal as anywhere else in the western world. A few years ago Hungarians visiting this country couldn't get over the number of obese people they encountered, and indeed then there was a striking difference between the United States and Hungary. Perhaps today there are still fewer people who can be called obese in Hungary than here, but the number of overweight people is surprisingly high. The problem there as here is the lack of physical activity. The era of heavy physical work in Hungary is gone, thank heaven, but what has remained is a growing health problem.
In the United States, a country that has evolved into a nation of haves and have nots, both educationally and financially, health consciousness is largely the prerogative of the haves. A well-educated, well-off American does what the Hungarian prime minister does: runs or jogs, swims, goes to health clubs, is careful about what he eats, and doesn't smoke. The less educated and the poor don't do any of these things. It's enough to go into a Wal-Mart, look at the overweight people, and survey the rows and rows of junk food.
In Hungary there is a much smaller gap between the haves and the have nots. And there is an equally small gap in health consciousness. While in the United States only about 12% of people with a college degree smoke, in Hungary about 35% of doctors do. In the U.S. the better educated people are aware of the latest medical developments. First of all the media is full of medical news, and of course there is the internet. In Hungary, by contrast, medical knowledge is a rare commodity.
There are times when I don't want to believe my own ears. Saturday morning on Napkelte is a hodgepodge of topics–theater, literature, medicine, etc. The man who conducts the interviews is an overweight fellow with a career in theater and television. He was an actor, a director, the head of a theater. His name is István Verebes. It is hard to imagine that he ever was an actor because he has real difficulty expressing himself. The words just don't come. The second problem is that he cannot breathe properly. I don't know what is wrong, but it seems serious enough. While he is looking for words he breathes heavily. He tried to go on a diet, he failed. He tried to stop smoking, it didn't work. Verebes's conversations with doctors about medicine are incredible. His latest was with a cardiologist and the very high mortality rate due to circulatory problems. I guess I don't have to go into the details of what the cardiologist had to say because we all know: lifestyle is very important. One ought not to be overweight, one ought not to smoke, one ought to exercise. To which Verebes between heavy breathing asked: "Is this scientifically proven?" One says: that's not for real.
I don't know who is responsible for this general lack of medical knowledge. I suspect the doctors who until very recently didn't share "their secrets" with their patients. The patients didn't ask questions either. They simply didn't want to give offence. After all, they depend on their doctor's good will. I hope that all this is going to change because otherwise the Hungarian mortality rate will remain high. And Hungarian society can't afford this given the low birthrate.