Why health care reform is everyone’s responsibility

When we all do our part, it makes it easier for everyone in our community to be healthy.

By: Katie Nermoe .

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Eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising more, smoking less, wearing our seat belts. These are all things that would help reverse our nation’s rising health care costs.

The debate in Washington over health care is only part of the equation. The other part –- perhaps a more important part — lies within our own communities, and here’s what I mean.

Communities matter

When providing wellness training to business leaders, I often tell a story about my family’s 2016 summer vacation. We traveled to Europe to attend our daughter’s band performance. It was my husband’s first time in Europe, and the first thing he noticed was the size of the people. He remarked people were less obese in Europe than they were in America. I had to agree with him.

We started taking note of the kinds of foods we were eating while on vacation. Vegetables, lean meats, fresh fish, and almost every meal started with greens.

We decided the secret to being healthy once we got home was to keep eating like Europeans. But how long do you think that lasted? Not past the first airport connection. It was no longer convenient. Frankly, it was no longer available. It wasn’t willpower that tripped us up, it was our environment.

A couple months later I happened to be in Chicago during the World Series. The hotel lobby was crowded as we all watched the Cubs play hard to end the longest world championship drought in North American professional sports history. An older gentleman sat next to me and asked clarifying questions throughout the game. He finally turned to me and inquired, “…And, how do we know when the game is over?”

I responded with, “Where are you from?” He indicated he was a physician from London, proceeded to explain the game of cricket to me, in which I then I had more empathy for his lack of baseball knowledge. I decided I’d use our chance encounter as an opportunity to ask him about obesity in Europe versus America. He responded with, “Do you realize how hard it is to get a decent meal in America?”

He proceeded to tell me he had met a colleague for lunch earlier that day downtown, and thought he was safe by ordering salmon on the menu, but explained with disgust, “They brought the salmon out on a bed of sugar.” He was referring to white rice.

We had each spent time in each other’s communities. In his community, it was easy to be healthy. In mine, it wasn’t.

What we can do

The bottom line is, the United States is considered one of the most over-fed, undernourished nations; and until we all change our ways, the cost of health care won’t be changing anytime soon.

  • Business leaders: Create cultures that are conducive to living a healthy, fulfilling life for your employees. Provide access to healthy food in the workplace, limit long work hours so employees have the time and energy to exercise, provide parental leave and ample vacation time for employees to recharge and balance life’s demands, and offer flexible work schedules. Is it easy or hard for your employees to be healthy once they walk through the doors of your organization?
  • Restaurants: Offer healthy menu options, healthy side dish options, such as fruit, salad or veggies (not just chips or fries), and offer both full and half portions as menu options.
  • Physicians and health systems: Provide best-practice care that is supported by research, effectively coordinate a patient’s care, and even better, innovate and find new ways of treating and preventing disease.
  • Retail: Think about the nudges and cues you are giving customers. Are you going to put soda and junk food next to the checkout? Are you a retailer who continues to sell cigarettes?
  • Local government: Invest in infrastructure and green space that supports and encourages year-round healthy living and physical recreation for residents of all ages.
  • Schools: In addition to ensuring healthy school lunches and restricting snacks in the classroom, teach students wellness literacy with the same veracity as reading and math. Walking school buses are a great way to get kids moving before and after school.

The list can go on. Setting politics aside, when we all do our part, it makes it easier for everyone in our community to be healthy. Collectively, we’re all part of the health care solution.

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