This is National Public Health Week. Who knows where these things originate. Unlike a second cousin or great uncle day, very few greeting cards are passed around among the public heath minded.
Of course, that is not to say their efforts don’t deserve a card or two.
Preventive medicine deals in the health of the group, not the individual. Wholesale healthcare, if you will, paints with broad strokes. This is very attractive to people who concern themselves with the cost of healthcare, as preventive medicine gives you more bang for the buck.
A typical lung cancer patient will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, and all too often for a few extra months of life spent in physical misery. Preventing lung cancer is comparatively cheap and easy – it’s an oil change versus a new engine.
Smoking causes close to 90 percent of the lung cancer in this country. So someone figured out we could avoid a lot of lung cancer simply by reducing cigarette smoking. Through a combination of advertising, taxes and laws, smoking rates have been cut in half over the last 40 years (from 42 percent to 20 percent).
These efforts are literally saving tens of thousands of people a very nasty struggle with lung cancer. The cost of this: some anti-smoking advertising, much of which the tobacco companies pay for. Raising taxes on cigarettes discourages smoking while producing tax revenue for other worthwhile projects.
Weight loss is another area where a little work spreading the word can get you huge bonuses in the public health burden. A modest decrease in a group’s average body weight produces significant reductions in Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and osteoarthritis. How many heart surgeons could be retrained to care for the elderly or the poor?
It’s hard to tune into any media these days without seeing something about exercise. That’s because physical exercise promotes weight loss, so you get all the benefits mentioned above, and a whole lot more.
Exercise keeps you alive by cutting down on blood vessel disease, and it also helps you enjoy life by reducing depression. Your immune system works better, as does most any other system you care to name. Exercise even cuts down on cancer. If a pill did all this, they would sell it for $100 apiece and we would all stand in line to buy it.
Diet is another big part of the preventive medicine picture. We have not done as well at communicating the importance of a healthy diet as we have the dangers of smoking. Food advice has been mostly provided by the people who sell the food.
Medical providers and dietitians aren’t deeply involved in designing the original food pyramid. However, that is changing. We now have dietary advice for avoiding cancer or helping fight it. You can rev up your immune system, reverse atherosclerosis and probably extend your life span dramatically by making smart dietary choices.
Preventive medicine is worth celebrating during National Public Health Week. It’s not as razzle-dazzle as the latest PET scanner, but people are much more likely to enjoy their great-grandchildren if they commit to healthy lifestyle changes.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.