I have been in Washington the past several days primarily to participate in a congressional staff briefing on the importance of funding for research and to attend the discussion with the President on ABC’s “Prescription for America” which will air this evening at 10PM EDT.
But something I saw yesterday really bothered me, and brought me back to reality when it comes to understanding the barriers our country faces in achieving true personal health reform.
The issue? The extent of overweight and obesity in this country and its impact on our health and our health care costs.
The moment occurred in my hotel, which was hosting a meeting of a well-known nationwide union. I don’t know the topic of the meeting, but there were a lot of folks in the hotel, all wearing their shirts with the same logo and message.
When I looked over the crowd I saw something that shook me to my physician core. These were working people—I suspect many of them hard working people—but the number of them who were overweight and obese was astonishing. The personal impact of the sight surprised me. It was unmistakable that this group of folks was—from a medical view—in serious trouble, if not already there.
When I recovered, and tried to understand why I reacted the way I did, I got to thinking about the implications of the observation.
Here I was just the other day writing a blog about the success of employers in improving the health of their workers. What I hadn’t given much thought to was what the “other side” of that equation (the unions) was doing to help their members—their lifeblood and their future—address the same issues involved in creating a culture of health.
This is not a commentary that is pro-union or anti-union. This is about the millions of people in this country who go to work every day to get the job done. It is a commentary that is pro-health and pro-people. It is a commentary that all of us are in this together. If we don’t fix this problem as a nation, whether you are an employer or an employee, we are going to be in a heap of trouble.
Health care costs affect unions just like they do employers. This is, in a sense, a one-size-fits all type of issue. More money on health care means less money for wages and other benefits. And, for unions that run their own health insurance plans, it impacts the fiscal health of their organization just the same way health care costs impact the bottom line of a large corporation.
I spend a good deal of time traveling around the country, and in particular from my office in Atlanta to my home in southwest Georgia. I frequently stop at truck stops for the obvious reasons, and as a result get to see a lot of truckers and other travelers. These men and women do work hard, and they work crazy hours. And many of them are—you guessed it—overweight and obese. How do you reach out to them and get them to make healthier choices?
They certainly aren’t going to get there with a giant burger and a super-large helping of French fries. (You can only imagine how exciting it is to see a truck stop that actually offers healthy choices—and see the truckers who do take the message to heart. But as I have said previously, I lead a strange life when it takes things like that to make me feel good.)
These are just small examples of a much larger issue: how are we going to change our living environment to make healthier choices the norm, get more exercise, get down to a healthier weight, and avoid the metabolic catastrophe that is engulfing you, and me and everyone we know?
I don’t have a simple answer to this problem, and heaven knows I have my own daily struggle with trying to eat right, exercise and get rid of the extra pounds I have carried around most of my life. And if I am having trouble staying the course, then how the heck are others going to be able to do this if they don’t live and breathe this message???
So to those of you out there who are everyday folks putting in your best effort to make ends meet, maybe you have some suggestions on how to answer the challenges to our health that we all face. It would be great to hear from you, and have you share your thoughts and your experiences.
And maybe the unions will stand up (maybe they already have, although I don’t have any examples at hand) and work with their members beyond the basic issues of pay, work rules and health insurance, and make overall health an important goal as well.
I like people. I believe the best in people. I believe that most of us have the power within us to change. All of us should be able to do well and prosper medically, spiritually, and financially.
I have no doubt that those folks in the hotel were good people who believe in their cause. I just wish they had a little extra left over to commit to a greater cause, which is to regain our health along with our optimism.
To me, that would be a something that all of us should negotiate for.