As a nation, we have abrogated responsibility for our health to our doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. Yet according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare services account for only 10% of the factors influencing a person's overall state of health. Indeed, according to the CDC, a full 53% of the factors affecting our state of health are lifestyle influences, which reflect our personal behavioral choices. Unfortunately, I am convinced that many, if not most, Americans are entrenched in toxic lifestyles that drive healthcare costs through the roof.
Nowhere is the impact of our unhealthy lifestyles more evident than in the case of obesity, which is running neck and neck with smoking as our leading preventable cause of death. One-third of adult Americans are obese, and obesity is, in turn, a major contributing factor to diabetes, heart disease and a wide variety of other deadly (and highly expensive) illnesses. Yet in many cases, the root causes of obesity reflect our unhealthy choices concerning the types and quantities of foods we eat, together with the sedentary lifestyles of most Americans.
Now here's the $2 trillion question: How can we craft a viable healthcare reform package that will address Obama's laudable objective of extending quality, affordable healthcare to all Americans, without contributing to further increases in healthcare costs or eroding the access to quality, personalized care that is presently enjoyed by Americans with existing healthcare coverage?
While I believe the president's objectives are truly within reach, I staunchly maintain that accomplishing truly meaningful healthcare reform will require nothing short of a “National Call to Wellness,” spearheaded by Obama himself.
In short, Obama must issue a “call to wellness” that will rival President John Kennedy's 1961 challenge to place a man on the moon by the end of that decade. As an underlying precondition for healthcare reform, he must unequivocally call for a national commitment to wean ourselves from our addiction to excessive and highly costly medical treatment by taking charge of our health.
Furthermore, to underscore the essential role of a national commitment to wellness in accomplishing meaningful healthcare reform, I propose that our president call for creation of a cabinet-level position of Secretary of Health and Wellness. The newly created department directed by this individual would be charged with orchestrating a broad-based, ongoing national campaign to aggressively promote healthy lifestyles, and empower each and every American to take charge of their health.
How will this “National Call to Wellness” set the stage for viable healthcare reform? In short, if we can succeed in motivating our citizens to take full ownership of both their health and their excessive use of health services, we should be able to realize a savings in inflation-adjusted healthcare costs of 20% or more before the end of the president's second term, should he be re-elected. This, in turn, will secure the necessary funding to guarantee universal access to quality healthcare for all Americans, including the 50 million uninsured.
Will there be entrenched pockets of resistance to the wellness-driven reform strategy I am advocating? Of course. At day's end, however, I remain confident in the inherent goodness and determination of the American people and our elected leaders, together with our collective ability to walk the high road in pursuit of truly meaningful reform that will benefit all Americans.
John Newport is a freelance writer, speaker and wellness advocate based in Port Townsend, Wash.