Can America’s doctors lead us to better health?
It’s hard to miss the fact that the health of our country is struggling. Only about a quarter of American men and a third of American women are at a healthy weight, almost half of all Americans have at least one chronic health condition, and 86% of our healthcare spending goes to treating them.
Yet, we know that four modifiable lifestyle behaviors are behind most chronic diseases: physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and the harmful use of alcohol. Study after study has shown that 150 minutes each week of moderate intensity physical activity lowers the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and even some cancers.
Time and again the medical marvels of exercise have been proven. But there’s still not much coaching going on in exam rooms. Only about 9% of doctor office visits include physical activity counseling.
It makes you wonder—after all, if exercise is one of the most effective methods for enriching wellness and preventing and managing disease, shouldn’t it be the first line of treatment for patients and not the last?
The underlying reason for this disconnect may lie in how physicians view their role generally and how they are trained and paid. Historically, the focus of the U.S. medical system has been on treating illness. And frankly, doctors tend to view their role as deliverers of the cure—with relatively little time or training spent on prevention or health promotion.
But with often-avoidable chronic diseases now the leading causes of death and disability in the United States, doctors need to start seeing themselves less as mechanics applying a fix once disease appears, and more as leaders of our country’s wellbeing. It’s time for our healthcare system at large to rethink what it really means to heal.
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It’s no longer enough to treat disease and keep symptoms at bay. Our doctors need to lead us to better health. After all, physicians—as well as other primary care providers—are in the ideal position of having our ear when we’re most open to receiving advice about our wellbeing. It’s a fleeting, hard come-by moment of influence. And only doctors have access to it.
So how do we capitalize on that invaluable leadership moment?