Big Ideas 2014: Creating a Culture of Health

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I was intrigued by a LinkedIn post by Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. She talks about her big idea of creating a culture of health. She’s absolutely right on! Often we get caught up in the minutia of attempting to solve high level, complex problems but even if we do get that right (with a little luck), we continue to simply focus on the symptoms of a problem versus the root cause.

Here’s Dr. Lavizzo-Mourey with more to say on the subject:

I believe that in many respects our society does not seem to place value on health (a generalization, I realize). Health is not a priority. It’s often an afterthought. But indeed we put a substantial dollar cost to it.

It is estimated that the U.S. spends approximately $2.7 trillion a year on health care, more than any other country by far, and yet we have some of the highest rates of chronic health conditions and disabilities. Diabetes, hypertension, obesity, smoking, depression, and on and on. To create a healthier people, community and nation, we must extend our focus beyond just treating the illness. We must embrace and live by a culture of health, to pursue a life of health (including mental health), wellness and recovery.

The term “culture of health” may sound like a vague notion, but the fact is that almost every aspect of our environment and daily activities affects our health. And although everyone has their own definition or notion of what a culture of health means to them, there are most certainly some recurring themes: the opportunity to lead a healthy life, adequate and affordable housing, educational opportunities, safety from violence, healthy food options, exercise, the opportunity to contribute to society/community and affordable, quality health care.

Think it’s a far-fetched idea or concept? Well, here’s the news! The culture of health is already emerging across the nation and there are numerous examples to illustrate this movement (several more are highlighted in the post):

  • College campuses that have adopted smoke-free policies have more than doubled from 2011 to 2013.
  • Local and large scale businesses and corporations have implemented benefits and incentives to promote health and wellness among their employees.
  • Communities are redesigning how to build parks, trails, plazas and residences to inspire children and adults to be outside and physically active.
  • Health care organizations are starting to view their patients as active members and partners, vested in their own health, wellness and recovery (versus passive participants in treatment).

These are just a few examples of how social, clinical and environmental determinants are being addressed to contribute to this culture of health.

Business leaders are seeing the value of a healthy workforce and its impact on productivity and the bottom line. Health plans are also taking notice. Foundations are pushing for innovations to improve the health status of communities across the nation. There is value in health!

If we are truly serious about this endeavor, people and community-based organizations must come together and develop a shared vision of what is meant by a “culture of health” and inclusive of mental health. It is then that we can begin to influence the national dialogue and start a movement toward a culture of health. Lastly, we must be committed to ensuring that this vision culminates in tangible results that effect measurable change.

Creating a national culture of health will take everyone but can start with one person: you! You can make a difference and start our nation down the path of health, wellness and recovery.

Healthy lives, healthy families, healthy communities. In my opinion, this is the most pressing issue facing our nation today, and we need a culture of health now more than ever. Aside from the economic burden, these chronic health conditions take a human toll: the lives of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, friends, and members of our community. The cost of doing nothing or maintaining the status quo is far too great.

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