How Many Times Do We Need to be Told?

by DavalosMcCormack on July 23, 2009

Did you ever know someone who sounded like a stuck record, who kept saying the same thing over and over again. Irritating isn’t it. You want to tell them “I heard you the first time” and move on. Sadly when it comes to health experts telling us how to improve our lives we can’t do that, because it’s patently obvious that far too many of us either didn’t hear them or if we did we chose to ignore them.

Case in point, two new studies that say pretty much the same thing. And those findings in turn are an echo of many previous studies that found the same thing.

The first study is from the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association or JAMA as its fondly called. The researchers found that you could easily reduce your high blood pressure simply by sticking with a lifestyle that includes maintaining a normal weight, getting daily exercise, eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, as well as low sodium intake and taking a folic acid supplement every day.

OK, obviously I slipped in two words there just to see if you are paying attention. Those are “easy” and “simply”. If things really were that easy or that simple we’d all be slim and trim and buffed. Look around you. That’s not the case is it? Except for you of course. You look fabulous darling.

The second study was along pretty much the same lines. It also came out in JAMA and found that men who exercised regularly, drank moderately, didn’t smoke, had a healthy body weight and a diet that included lots of fruits and vegetables were at lower risk of dying from heart failure.

Again, this is nothing terribly new. You could google those same findings and find dozens and dozens of studies in just the last few years that came to the same conclusion. And yet, more and more Americans are putting on weight rather than losing it, and increasing their risk  of health problems rather than lowering them.

So what’s going on? Clearly there is a disconnect between what we know and what we do. Why that is the case is a topic for another day, but what is important now is that the current drive to reform the American health care system is doomed to failure as long as people fail to take individual responsibility for their own health.

Government, pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and insurance companies can fiddle with the details all they like but as long as ordinary men and women fail to do anything to improve their own health we are just going to see our national health care bill rise.

As people age they are more susceptible to health problems. With the number of Americans who are overweight or obese on the rise and the number of Americans suffering from diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure on the rise, we are heading for some serious problems in the future.

So maybe it’s time the national conversation about health care reform doesn’t just focus on changing the way we run health care, maybe it also has to change the way we run our own lives.

Maybe it’s time to make health and healthy living a key part of every schools’ curriculum, starting in kindergarten. Maybe we should offer reduced insurance rates for people who lead healthy lifestyles – just as we reward good drivers with lower auto insurance. Maybe we should make it easier for people to get the exercise they need by opening up school gyms after hours so people can workout in safety. Maybe we need to improve the health of our neighborhoods by having more parks or safe places for kids to play, and more grocery stores that offer fresh produce at an affordable price.

Maybe this is beyond the ability of government to change, but if we don’t try then we’ll never make the real changes we need to improve not just the health of the system, but the health of every American.

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