The Nation's Health -- And Ours

It's hard to go anywhere without seeing a "going green" logo. I'm all for saving the planet -- this is a good thing. What's missing, however, is an equally energetic effort for saving our own health. As we focus attention on making our planet healthier, isn't it at least as important that we begin making ourselves healthier as well?

President Barack Obama has placed reforming health care among his highest priorities and bringing down costs as job No. 1. Recently, Gov. Beverly Perdue hosted a regional forum on health reform, and it drew almost 1,000 attendees. Governmental health care reform initiatives will likely address key issues such as decreasing the number of uninsured, improving information technology, decreasing bureaucratic waste and rationalizing reimbursement -- all necessary, but only part of the solution.

To truly improve the health of our state and nation, we must also focus on preventing disease and promoting health and well-being. Our current health care system must be transformed from its current ineffective, expensive and reactive "sick care" approach to one that is proactive, personalized, preventative, cost effective and appropriately focused on enhancing health as well as rationally managing disease.

Treating events of late-stage chronic diseases consumes nearly three-quarters of health care expenditures. Many of these conditions can be minimized by effective and far less costly prevention. We each have our own inherited tendencies for disease susceptibility, but how we manage what we inherit is largely up to us.

So why don't we harness the momentum of health reform and do something big and bold -- spur a North Carolina "going healthy" movement to help us deal more effectively with disease prevention and health enhancement? If "going healthy" were as front of mind as "going green," we would make great strides toward health care reform.

Improving health requires better nutrition, exercise, stress reduction and health risk avoidance -- it isn't as though we've not heard this before. But healthy living is not easily adopted in our environment, which inundates us with a culture of sloth, overeating and high stress. The "going healthy" movement would change this by making what's good for us easier to attain and by empowering us to do what's good for our health.

This initiative requires collaboration among businesses, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, communities, media, government and others who could play major roles by providing, for example, accurate education and nutritional information at the point of purchase; making wholesome foods easily accessible; increasing the ability to exercise at work, in our communities and schools; providing stress reduction and smoking cessation programs; and facilitating walking and bike paths (a good use of stimulus funds).

The media, with the help of sports teams, could encourage fitness and activity rather than watching others do this. Appropriate interest groups could be convened to coordinate the movement to emphasize health and well-being. Most importantly, the "going healthy" initiative would articulate the value of health and well-being as critical resources that we can control. By striving to improve our health and well-being, we would not only live healthier lives, we also would consume fewer health care resources and feel far better about ourselves and those around us.

So where does it start? It begins with us, our state and federal governments, communities, organizations, workplaces and schools. An example of a creative endeavor is at Duke University, where a group of students formed the Duke Prospective Health Care Club to educate undergraduates about how they can improve their health. The club just kicked off a yearlong health care competition for which students team up with university employees to meet healthy goals. The winners will get the ultimate prize -- tickets to next year's Duke/Carolina basketball game at Cameron. The club is working to expand efforts across college campuses nationally. Many business and communities have similar initiatives, but what is needed is a coordinated focus to create a groundswell leading to a state then a national movement.

As Perdue and Obama have indicated, health care costs are a major factor driving our economic tailspin. With appropriate focus on "going healthy," we would help save the economy and, even more importantly, ourselves. Why shouldn't North Carolina set an example for the nation by leading the "going healthy" initiative? We have the opportunity to create a truly healthier, happier and economically sound state and to show the nation another example of North Carolina's vitality and creativity. All we need now is to get started, then a logo!