Toward a Healthier America
By Joseph Brady
Health Care is not an industry! We all have a stake in creating a healthier American society. Economic realities are wrenching massive changes in our health care system. The potential restricting of expensive medical technology to the well-insured promises to send ripples across every facet of our society. We can simply no longer afford this 3 trillion dollar technological Frankenstein we call a health care system. However, there is hope a patriotic health movement is possible.
An alternative strategy is emerging in the prevention of disease. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop estimated that 80% of all diseases could be partly if not entirely prevented with changes in lifestyle. If we are to achieve even a fraction of this 80%, prevention must move from being a purely intellectual concept to a social movement.
The oldest medical book in the world is the 5000-year-old Yellow Emperor’s Classic. The first line in the book states: “It is the inferior doctor who waits for the patient to become ill. The superior doctor seeks to cultivate health and prevent disease.” Today, this ancient advice is being spoon fed to our health care system, along with a hefty dose of economic reality. The health care system must place a higher premium on prevention and community health, and use our modern medical miracle machine only as a last resort.
At what point did we become a nation of health care consumers anyway? We act as if health is a commodity that can be bought from someone else. According to the World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Under that definition health is a community affair, not a commodity. Medical science is important but community involvement is crucial
Research presented at a meeting of the American Society on Aging indicated an emerging trend toward a three tiered health care system. Primary prevention, community and family support, and then only, medical intervention.
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
The first line of defense in the health care system of the future is prevention. Preventive medicine is effective health education and it is clear that physical activity gives you “the most bang for the buck” when it comes to health education. The 1996 Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health found that moderate increases in physical activity produced a 23% decrease in mortality and corresponding decreases in disability and disease.
Henrik Ibsen, the Norwegian playwright, summed up one possible but cold hearted solution in health care when he wrote ” People who don’t know how to keep themselves healthy ought to have the decency to get themselves buried, and not waste time about it.”
A more compassionate health care system should not revolve around denial of care and a health insurance system divided between the have’s and the have not’s, but should be social, family and community support for self-care and people taking better care of themselves. A strong social network of friends, family and neighborhood centers are essential to the effective delivery of a more economic and just health care system. This would leave plenty of money left over to take care of the have not’s but there is no amout of money in the world to take care of the will not’s, those who know how to stay healthy and simply will not.
Prevention must become a social movement
Achievable behavior change is the most difficult scientific challenge we face. So, how do you turn a concept like healthy lifestyles into a social movement?
Coalition (from Latin coalitus) means to grow together. The common interests of many influential groups in our society are beginning to coalesce into a national strategy. The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and a host of others are coming together in support of the NCPPA. The physical, mental and social impact upon health of increased physical activity is a pivot point around which many healthy lifestyle factors revolve. Over the next ten years these organizations and many others will spend well over a billion dollars to try and make healthy lifestyles a reality.
We need a patriotic health movement
Are there a good examples of prevention and community involvement at work? Researchers like Bill McCartney of UCLA point to the Peoples’ Republic of China where the parks are filled each morning with millions of T’ai Chi exercisers. These exercise programs form the hub of social, family and community health programs. Old and young alike gather each day to socialize as well and to get their exercise as part of the “patriotic health movement.” Can we adopt some of these principles and assume these lifestyle behaviors in our country?
Driven by three of the seven deadly sins (greed, sloth and gluttony) our 3 trillion dollar healthcare system burns away our national wealth while the politicians fiddle around arguing about how to pay for it. To create a health care system of which we all can be proud, healthy minded people may have to form coalitions and quietly storm the medical industrial complex and demand a more effective health care system. We need to create a social environment that supports individual’s efforts to make the necessary improvements in lifestyle. To misquote Gandhi “we have the resources to deal with peoples medical needs, we don’t have the resources to deal with their greeds.”