As students and faculty in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M, we are committed to our Grand Challenges, including Improving Our Health. The past week in Costa Rica has really opened my eyes and taught me a lot about our different cultures and how our lifestyles affect life expectancy in both countries.
Citizens of Costa Rica, often called Ticos, have a cleaner diet than American citizens, which creates a much healthier way of life in Costa Rica. We have experienced this first-hand during our two-week study abroad trip. Typical meals in the country consist of “slow food” including rice and black or red beans, lots of fresh fruit and salads. Also on the menu are lean meats including poultry, beef, pork and fish. Meanwhile, the majority of Americans are consistently eating fast foods and unhealthy diets which often create health issues.
According to data from the World Bank, Costa Ricans outperform U.S. citizens in life expectancy. The mortality rate in the United States is 18% higher for men and 10% higher for women than that of Costa Rica. The average life expectancy for Costa Rica was 79.4 years in 2014 while the United States was only 78.7. We might conclude that cleaner diets and a more active lifestyle result in the longer life expectancy in Costa Rica. This is despite Costa Ricans having a per capita income about $40,000 less than U.S. citizens’ averages.
As we know, obesity has become a significant problem in the United States. According to CDC, more than one-third of American adults are obese. However, obesity is much less common in Costa Rica and does not pose the same health threat to the country as in the U.S. This is in part because of socioeconomic status. Ticos do not have disposable income for fast food and premium goods that Americans include in their everyday diets.
While we have been in Costa Rica, one of the things we’ve noticed is the “no smoking” signs posted everywhere. They have strict laws against smoking in any public places, and have imposed a high tax on tobacco products with intentions of discouraging the purchase of cigarettes. Enforcing these laws helps create a cleaner environment, and therefore a healthier life for Costa Ricans.
Improving Our Health goes beyond just clean eating and regular doctor visits. Being in another country, even for just a short period time, has greatly impacted my views on health in the United States. To improve our health, we must constantly try create a better environment and lifestyle. We have observed different methods of farming, and tried new vegetables and fresh fruit from local, family-owned farms in Costa Rica. When I return from studying abroad, I will be eager to implement these practices and spread my new knowledge throughout our own country. The next time I go grocery shopping, I will definitely visit an H-E-B or Central Market to search for fresh starfruit, my new Costa Rican favorite!