Michael Paul Williams picked up several limitations of Dan Buettner’s presentation on happiness and longevity at the Richmond Forum as noted in his Jan. 28 Metro column. The data Buettner presented on Richmond clearly did not represent Richmond. One must question the validity of Buettner’s conclusions when the sample used was Forum subscribers, not even a statistical sample of the Richmond metro area. Having a paying audience’s ears tickled does not justify poor scientific methodology.

Buettner touted Singapore and Denmark. The U.N. reports three countries with higher life spans than Singapore: Monaco, Japan and Andorra. And there are many countries ahead of Denmark as well – ironically a country where your physician may help you die if you are severely ill and really unhappy.

I spoke with Buettner about the top health challenges for Richmond which are driven by the breakdown in relationships between men and women. When asked what work is he familiar with or has he done with communities to promote healthy relationships between men and women, he had nothing to offer.

Richmond will most likely find happiness as Mr. Williams suggests, in the building of human capital; the data all points to the need for building that core institution for raising children. Single women can be successful raising children; we have all seen wonderful examples. Yet, in a community where 64 percent of the children find themselves at birth in single female households and a high percentage of these in poverty, happiness and improved longevity may be found by empowering mothers and fathers to work cooperatively to raise their children together. Happiness for Richmond would be a community where the hearts of the fathers turn to their children and the hearts of the children turn to their fathers.

Donald R. Stern, M.D., M.P.H, Director, Richmond City Health District