Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ask the Un-Economist: Should You Be Afraid of Catching Cancer (and Heart Disease) in Japan?

Dear Un-Economist: I’m a permanent resident of Japan and I’m worried because more and more people are dying in Japan every year, and cancer death rates in particular are going through the roof. So I guess my question is: Should I go back to the EU and its socialized medicine・America with its guns, or should I try to brave it out here? I don’t want to give up my Charisma-man status.

Dear permanent resident: How old are you? I’m asking you this because Japan is a rapidly aging society and old people have a way of, you Know, dying. And the older you get, the more you tend to die from the inside out, with cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and an assortment of organ failures as they break down; instead of from the outside, from (alcohol-fueled) car accidents and gunshot wounds (one thing we have little cause to worry about in Japan statistically speaking) and the like. So yes, death, and more specifically cancer and cardiovascular disease are on the up and up, both in absolute terms and relative to the overall population. But I’d still put my money on Japan if I were you. Fewer and fewer people are dying here in every age group since 1965, as this Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry table shows. I’m betting that cancer and heart disease deaths also went down from 2005 to 2007, the years for which the table displays annual figures.

7 comments:

Durf said...

Your analysis sidesteps the (equally?) important fact that if the correspondent is young, he'll be stuck paying for the palliative care for all those oldies as they succumb to cancer and whatnot. Hey, I'm sure the system will stay stable enough to do the same for him if he sticks around long enough, though . . . *cough*

Jun Okumura said...

Durfee: The Un-Economist is not “sidestepping” that issue at all. It’s simply not The Un-Economist’s ball of wax. The Un-Economist only pokes holes in misguided pieces of conventional wisdom, and leaves the real issues to me. And the long-term financial viability of the public healthcare system is very real. I in turn have commented on that subject, but mainly on the political fringes and nowhere near to my personal satisfaction; I know too little about the subject as it is.

Zach Baran said...

"Fewer and fewer people are dying here in every age group since 1965, as this Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry table shows."

I clicked on the link, and am thinking, "Are we looking at the same table?"

Deaths per 100,000 people rose for the following age groups between 2005 and 2006:
35-39, 55-59

As well, the overall death rate increased from 860 to 879. Both the male and female overall numbers increased.

Ignoring the data, I don't quite understand the conventional wisdom being poked at in this case. "Catching cancer"? Wha?

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you, Zach, for pointing out my error, that two out of 139 numbers regarding the death rate for age groups did show an increase, not a decrease. I should have said, “Fewer and fewer people are dying here in almostevery age group since 1965”, not “Fewer and fewer people are dying here in every age group since 1965”. When you grow old, Zach, the eyes are the first to go, trust me. (On the other hand… but that’s another issue.) However, I never claimed in my post that the overall death rate was not increasing. My point was that some people who should know better are making the claim that cancer (heart failure) deaths are rising to support their (in many ways supportable) assertion that there are some things wrong with the Japanese healthcare system. Sorry that I failed to make this clearer for you.

Zach Baran said...

I could cite the factoid that cancer and heart disease deaths are rising as leading killers of the Japanese population, and that this factoid supports the claim that Japanese preventative medicine is lagging. (Isn't that the real claim here?)

The somewhat spurious conclusions you reach from your stats don't really overturn this claim.

Do you have an example of someone "who should know better are making the claim that cancer (heart failure) deaths are rising to support their (in many ways supportable) assertion that there are some things wrong with the Japanese healthcare system."?

Bryce said...

Woo-hoo!

Someone has cited a wikipedia article that I wrote/initiated!

Jun Okumura said...

Zach: I don’t think you’re seeing the same statistics that I’m seeing. I have no intention of making an another attempt to explain the difference between statistics regarding age groups and the population as a whole. I heard the cancer (heart failure) figures being cited to support the claim that the Japanese heath care system was failing at a public forum attended by among other people a large number of pharmaceutical industry professionals and no one challenged it.

Bryce: Cool. But what Wikipedia article?