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As an associate professor in the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver, Patrick M. Krueger spends his mornings thinking about health and disease. He spends his afternoons thinking about how things like education, poverty, and race can shape your health in ways that your doctor may not be able to fix.

A speaker at our previous Make + Believe event, Patrick spends his weekends trying to embarrass his 12-year-old daughter, and trying not to embarrass his wife. Here we talk about the scope of the problems facing humanity and how dark humor can help.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge facing the health, wellness, and healthcare world today?

I’d argue that our greatest challenge is addressing unequal opportunities for long lives. Some evidence suggests that the affluent are approaching the limits of longevity. Simply put, the biggest gains in life expectancy are behind us. From my perspective, the real issue is that too many people (e.g. the disadvantaged in high income countries, and populations living in lower-income countries) are deprived of those same opportunities to live long, healthy lives.

What does a healthy life mean to you, and how do you personally try to live one?

I could give you a glib answer about exercising and eating right. But the truth is that I can expect to live a long, healthy life because I was born in an affluent country, at the right time in history, to parents who were able to help me pay for college.

How can the TEDxMileHigh community make an impact on the health of our state?

I think of TEDxMileHigh as a community that is willing think about big ideas. I hope my talk will start a conversation that the TEDxMileHigh community can bring to their own circles—a conversation about how social conditions might be more impactful for health and survival than medical care.

What’s something few people know about you?

I tried to put my expected date of death on my calendar, but Google Calendar won’t let me schedule anything past 2050.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably?

My wife recently gave me the book Mox Nox by Joan Cornellà. I love his dark, absurd humor.

When did you last make time for make-believe?

I think about ideas all the time. For me, the real payoff is using some kind of data to test my ideas against the world. Sometimes my initial ideas hold water, but more often they crash and burn in the face of evidence. Some of my most beloved ideas end up in the trash bin. Thus is the nature of science.

Do you have a favorite TED talk?

As a scientist, I find the talk by Benjamin Bratton at TEDxSanDiego especially compelling. He focuses on the perils of talks that offer easy answers to difficult problems.

Let’s face it, if the problems were easy to solve then we would have solved them already. But he also described how we could approach old problems in new ways, and with enough hard work, make a bit of progress.

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