Friday, November 20, 2009

Band Aids vs. Change (Health Care Reform, Part 2)

Now that creATE has been public for over a month, I've had the opportunity to receive a plethora of helpful feedback from friends, family, and members of the online community about the content conveyed and ideas expressed in this blog.  I'd first like to thank everyone who provides feedback and comments, because your thoughts are most helpful in creating new blog topics, further developing my ideas, and creating the community forum that is the goal of creATE.

Most of your comments encouraging and enthusiastic (which makes sense as we like to read what we enjoy), but in this blog entry I'd like to address some of the more critical feedback I've received in conversations over the past few weeks.  Fortunately for our discussion, health care is a huge tie-in to this issue.

The biggest critical response: "People aren't going to change."

And to this, my response is: "Some people aren't."

Some people will.  When we discuss health care reform from a preventative and public health perspective, we need to remember that proposed changes are going to transpire differently than the way conventional change occurs.  Here I'm going to agree with my critics and say that, in general, Americans--and probably most people around the world--don't like change.  Change is difficult.  Change requires effort.  The need for change can be painful to acknowledge, accept, and realize.  But where I depart from the above critical response is that real change--that is, addressing the problem from the root of its cause--is the only way societies progress.

A big message in the Obama campaign was change: a change in the way our government was run for the previous eight years.  These changes have certainly not been easy and President Obama will be the first to admit.  But it those who support the President's agendas have both the confidence that change is necessary and good and that the views of the people must be voiced and considered.  I could go through history and cite many other examples during which difficult change was necessary to right a wrong--the civil rights movement, establishment of important health and safety regulations throughout history, the gay rights movement, and so forth--but the important point to note is that change was needed and people created it.

Unfortunately, when it comes to health and lifestyle issues, Americans really don't like change, in fact, we ignore that real change is needed.  Instead we put band-aids on issues that are really important.  Our administration denied the existence of global warming for some time, and when the government finally acknowledged the fact the earth is indeed getting warmer, we proceeded to make fun of it, and then propose how we could create the easiest--but not sustainable--fix.  Some band-aid artists, including Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner who recently published SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance, propose spewing sulfur dioxide through giant hoses into the atmosphere, creating carbon-eating trees, and using fiberglass boats to chemically produce clouds that would cool the earth.  While these type of solutions are interesting, they simply mask the issue and negate the original problem: that destructive human activity is harming our Earth and ourselves.

We're in a similar band-aid situation with health care.  Habits and lifestyles that are convenient are not necessarily sustainable.  In the short run, eating processed foods allows us to lead busy lives: to not cook so we have time to work hard, the convenience of saving money at the grocery store, and can eat food that tastes good to us without having the burden of thinking about its origin.  In the long run, we deal with health-related problems that come about as a result of these habits: high cholesterol, hypertension, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes type II, heart disease, obesity, etc.

But never fear, our health-care system has developed ways to combat these diseases with medical procedures that open up arteries and drugs that lower cholesterol.  We can't deny that these medical advancements are important and save lives.  However, what we don't hear enough is that these afflictions are entirely preventable--and reversible.  The remedies are more difficult and require more commitment than taking a pill, but the rewards are much greater in the long term because we have addressed the root of the problem by replacing poor lifestyle choices with better ones.

My charge to those readers who want this type of change is to empower yourself with the ability to change the direction our country's health care system, food industry, and overall lifestyles have taken.  Think about how much money you want to spend in the future on your health care costs.  Then make a change in your lifestyle or be an advocate for health care reform.  Stop supporting the big food industries that dominate our ad and grocery shelf space buy buying more produce or shopping at farmers' markets or healthier, smaller grocery stores.  Plan to make meals from scratch.  Try to weed out processed foods from your diet.  Exercise more.  Talk to others.  Get yourself informed and then get others informed.

My purpose here is not to oppose the current health care reforms that have recently moved through Congress and are moving on to the Senate.  The disparities in our current health care systems are certainly embarrassing and need to be fixed.  The rise of health care reform, however, is the perfect time to reflect--and advocate for changes--on the current and potential educational and preventative aspects of health care.

Taken from a preventative approach, health care and lifestyle reform can happen in a sustainable and effective way.  What side of the change do you want to be on?


  1. stephen dubner spoke at Federation event last night, enchanting talk on getting people to change, uses doctor's of washing hands in hospital as his example, only when they were presented with pictures of their hand cultures growing bugs, placed on screensavers in hospital, did they increase rates. He also reviewed his history of Jewish parents converting to strict Catholics and his conversion back to Judaism as young man, he wrote book on his family which I bought, amazing story, happy Vegan thanksgiving Joel

  2. I appreciate your perspective on this. I think it's important to point out that theres a difference between changing attitudes and changing behaviors. For example, the passing of time is helping our society to move forward since the Civil Rights movement with each generation becoming more tolerant of racial differences. This is a much more passive type of change when compared to lifestyle changes. This type of change requires the right motivation, which may very well require government intervention.