Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Dr. Weil tells Portland "Why Our Health Matters"

Last Thursday, October 15, we went to hear Dr. Andrew Weil give a talk in downtown Portland. (Here's a picture of ACHS President Dorene Petersen with Dr. Weil outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.) Dr. Weil, author of 8 Weeks to Optimum Health, has a new book, Why Our Health Matters: A Vision of Medicine That Can Transform Our Future, which addresses many of our current healthcare myths and challenges, as well a “Call to Action” for change.

Did you know, for example, that the World Health Organization has ranked the U.S. 37th in the world for healthcare outcomes, which puts us on par with Serbia? We hear about healthcare and disease everyday, but do we really know what all the information circulating about means for our health? "We don't have healthcare," Dr. Weil said. "We have disease management."

Dr. Weil attributes the root problems causing "disease management," to the unimaginable and rising cost of healthcare. We literally cannot afford to get sick. Why the high costs? Dr. Weil talked about two main reasons: 1. We don't talk about prevention (or, not enough); and 2. Medicine is dependent on high-cost technology.

Why, then, aren't we serious about prevention? What's holding us back? What can we do?

"The real meat of prevention is lifestyle medicine," Dr. Weil said. And, "if we are going to see meaningful healthcare reform, it will have to come from you."

So, how can you get started?

Here are some changes we can demand immediately, Dr. Weil's Call to Action. This list has been adapted from information included in "Why Our Health Matters" program materials.

1. Ban direct-to-consumer marketing and advertising by big pharma.

The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable in the country, with sales totaling about $643 billion a year. Most pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of their budget on advertising, which has created a skewed view of how health care works, that there is a “pill for every health problem.”

2. Create a National Institute of Health and Healing at the NIH and fund it generously.

Medicine needs to “return to its roots,” to focus on the natural healing power of humans. Research into the body’s ability to defend itself and regenerate will help achieve this. As a result, we will create and improve treatment and therapies that are less invasive and expensive.

3. Create an Office of health and Promotion within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and fund it appropriately.

Obesity kills about 400,000 people a year; yet, we spend 40 times more on the health risks of terrorism than obesity. The emphasis should be on prevention, not on treating disease. Education about nutrition, exercise, and healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to “defeat the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and conditions that lead to life-threatening diseases.”

4. Teach health promotion and integrative medicine at medical schools and residency programs.

We need “hands-on primary care physicians” who can education their patients about prevention of disease in addition to strategies for disease management and crisis intervention.

5. Require insurers to cover health promotion and integrative care.

Today, millions of Americans are taking supplements, practicing yoga, and using other natural modalities, which are all preventative measures that will “keep them out of the doctor’s office and drive down the costs of treating serious problems like heart disease and diabetes.” Yet, insurance companies do not cover these activities.

6. Establish an Office of Health Education within the U.S. Department of Education.

Healthy habits needs to start young. An Office of Health Education would make nutrition, diet, an integral part of every child’s education and would promote new and more meaningful ways to teach health.

7. Learn how to take care of yourself.

“You can’t afford to get sick, and you can’t depend on the present health care system to keep you well.” You have to make the right lifestyle choices to protect and maintain your body’s health.

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