We Can Create a Healthier Community

BY JAMES S. BURKHARDT, D.O

           When we say the word health, what do we mean?  What are we really talking about?  There are many ways to define good and I do not believe that it is merely the absence of disease or illness.  Good health is more than that.  It really reflects a state of physical, mental, psychological and social well-being.

            One of the central issues has to do with balancing the role of the individual with the role of government in promoting health.  This issue came to light in New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  The Bloomberg administration touched off huge controversy with its “portion cap rule” limiting the size of sugary drinks.  This was opposed by many stating that “New Yorkers need a Mayor not a nanny.”

            So, on one hand, government policy approaches – taxes, bans and other regulations – are viewed as “nanny state” intrusion by “big government”.  On the other hand, changes in regulation can help with a “savvy state” to fight conditions that lead to epidemic of chronic diseases such as diabetes. 

            Chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are responsible for seven out of every 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending.  Many of the risk factors that contribute to the development of these diseases are preventable. 

            No one would deny that in the United States in general and in Miami County in particular that we eat too much, smoke too much, drink too much and exercise too little.  Health status and related healthy behaviors are determined by influences at many levels including personal choice, (Do I supersize my meal?) environment (How do I get to the bike path?) and policy (taxes on cigarettes).  So community based programs are most likely to succeed when they address all of these issues. 

            Increased awareness and education are the place to start.  Areas where personal choice and policy meet occur at some restaurants.  For example, fast food places have been under the gun for promoting unhealthy lifestyles.  While some of this may be warranted, kudos are in order for McDonald’s restaurants which have begun posting calorie content on their menu boards.  While it may not make much difference, their increased awareness of what you are eating may give some people pause and change to a healthier choice. 

            There are areas that may be easy to identify and change.  Here are some ideas that would create healthier choices.  I have seen food at concession stands and not much would be considered “good for you.”  One simple change would be to price water cheaper than soda pop. 

            Another simple change would be to provide nutritional information on vending machine food.  Again, not much in vending machines would be considered “healthy.”  At Ohio Northern University, pharmacy students developed a labeling system for foods in vending machines based on sugar, salt, fat and fiber content.  To view this in detail go to onu.edu/trafficlightplus.   This would be a great project for any number of high school groups or even for leaders club at the YMCA.

            Providing nutrition information or a financial incentive to drink more water are only 2 easy ways to increase awareness and improve the health of our community.