What can be done to promote better health for the American population?
The number one killer of Americans today claims more lives than six of the other top ten causes combined. According to the Center of Disease Control, heart disease extinguishes more lives per year than accidents, COPD, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, stroke and suicide. (CDC, 2017) So what can the average American male and female, approaching middle age do about it?
The solution for such a complex problem, it would seem, would need to be just as complex, if not more so. However, it could be that one could take early preventative steps to reduce his or her risk of contracting these disorders in the first place. By taking certain precautions it is possible that even if an individual was unfortunate enough to contract one of these deadly ailments that their own outcomes may be improved. For instance; type two diabetes is completely preventable and in some cases reversible, accidents can be mitigated, the depression that ultimately ends with the individuals suicide could be treated, etc. By now this article sounds a lot like an ad for a new and exciting drug that can make dreams come true and will grant three wishes, that are delivered by a leprechaun riding his magic rainbow to his pot of gold that is surrounded by unicorns. But for now, back to reality. No this isn’t an ad for anything like that. What if, instead of searching for a one step cure for any and all ailments, that the aforementioned drug companies would have the public believe exist, there were instead four Pillars of Health. By adhering to the Four Pillars of Health, the American people as a whole can see drastic improvements in their lives. Four pieces of the foundation to health that are accessible to all Americans regardless of income, race, gender or age. Exercise, nutrition, sleep, and stress management are the four essential components to overall health. These four Pillars of Health act as a benchmark for all people to strive to meet.
Looking at the data one can see that the top two causes of death account for more than half of the total number of deaths per year. It is fair to assume then, that heart disease and cancer are the two diseases that should be garnering the most attention from the general public and the physicians treating them. It is widely known that many of the disorders on this list of causes of death are interrelated. For instance: heart disease, diabetes, in some cases stroke, and nephritis all stem from obesity (Rutkowski, 2006). There is even research that suggests that Alzheimer’s disease is a form of diabetes, sometimes referred to as “type 3 diabetes” (De la Monte & Wands, 2008). It appears to be obvious that obesity is the main culprit from which all these maladies stem. Therefore, using painfully simple logic it is easy to see that obesity is the true enemy of the American people and the reduction of the prevalence of obesity in the US population will ultimately save hundreds of thousands of lives per year.
Exercise is the first if the four Pillars of Health, because quite frankly the average American simply doesn’t get enough of it. Remember first and foremost that human beings are in fact animals. Therefore, human beings should behave more like animals to be healthy. In the wild, animals spend the majority of their time performing a few, relatively standard activities: obtaining food, grooming, providing for young, sleeping, etc. Human beings through the employment of our incredible intellect have removed ourselves from our natural state, so far as to refer to it as “the wild”. If cheetahs ever have to work in an office cubicle, you can be sure that they are not going to remain the svealt specimens they are today. So, in order to depart from the wayward path that the majority of Americans seem to be trodding, it would be far better for our animal bodies to be outdoors and much more active than the average American is today. This is no doubt difficult when considering the fact that during a typical day, activities that otherwise could provide opportunities to be active, are shunned and are frivolous or inconvenient.
Nutrition, the second Pillar, is tricky here in the US. “Every day, Americans view, on average, 15 television food advertisements” (Harris, Bargh, & Brownell, 2010) and new fad diets or quick fixes are added almost daily. Almost none take into consideration of individuality of each person’s body. Many Americans lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and many can’t afford these even if they are available. The food created by the food industry is highly addictive and the advertisements are manipulative. With the immersion of technology into almost every aspect of American life, advertisements are almost ever present, making the decisions about what Americans eat on a daily basis more and more confusing. Instead of eating whole unprocessed foods, the average American instead sees commercials with scantily clad women chomping on a thick juicy burger that’s loaded with excess calories. Or they see a billboard, reminding them that McDonald’s McRib is back again with all its artery clogging tastiness.
As startling as the amount of excess calories in the average foods that Americans are consuming, that doesn’t even take into account the lack of water that Americans drink. In the animal kingdom, animals drink water. That’s all, no fancy sports drinks, no colas, or carbonated beverages. Even for the mammals, milk is consumed only during infancy. Consider the excess calories that Americans get from just sugary drinks. If a “20-ounce bottle of regular soda, sports drink or fruit juice contained 250 calories and 16 tablespoons of sugar, [it] would require 50 minutes of running or 5 miles of walking to burn off.” (Preidt, 2014) As the old adage goes, “you can’t out-exercise a poor diet.” How many people in America are running or walking 5 miles after their Pepsi? The odds seems stacked against Americans with the use of manipulative advertising, the addictiveness of the food, the lack of access to affordable healthy alternatives, and the difficulty in making up for the high calorie “foods” that have been eaten. Exercise, along with the other three Pillars of Health, can help Americans towards a healthier path.
Sleep is absolutely essential, that doesn’t mean just shutting your eyes for a couple of hours, then surviving on a never ending flow of coffee all day long. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7–9 hours of sleep per night for the average adult.(National Sleep Foundation, 2018). This amount of sleep allows the brain to repair damage, clean, and process information. During long amounts of sleep (over 6 hrs), the kidneys and liver have a chance to filter and clean the blood. Without this toxins and byproducts of metabolism backup in the system. Lack of sleep causes mental fog, memory problems, reduces immunity, and more. Falling behind on the recommended amount of sleep per night adds up, and it adds up quickly in the form of sleep deprivation. Furthermore, “Long-term lack of sleep also increases the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease.” (Olson, 2015). Sleep does not operate in such a way as to allow one to create a debt of sleep, then when it suits them repay said debt and settle the sleep account. As convenient as that would be, unfortunately it just isn’t that simple. “The best sleep habits are consistent, healthy routines that allow all of us, regardless of our age, to meet our sleep needs every night, and keep on top of life’s challenges every day.” (National Sleep Foundation 2018)
Stress management is the fourth Pillar of Health and arguably the most flexible. How a person chooses to manage the stress in their lives is likely as unique as the individual themselves. However, there are a few tried and true methods that have been shown to work across the board: meditation, mindfulness, breathing techniques, writing journals, practicing gratitude, exercise, getting the correct amount of sleep, etc. The human body cannot tell the difference between an immediate threat to life and the modern day stressors, such as bills, arguments with significant others, or body image. In a situation where one’s life is immediately threatened, the digestive tract is shut down, the blood rushes to muscles and lungs preparing to either fight or run to save one’s life. The body cannot differentiate between being attacked by a bear, and the unplanned expenses of having to deal with emergency and very costly vehicle repair. Because the human body doesn’t know the difference between this life threatening stress and modern stressors, the effects in both scenarios are the same. Long term stress weakens immunity, makes it difficult to sleep, and wreaks havoc on the digestive tract. This in turn, increases one’s susceptibility to become ill. With this in mind, this Pillar becomes one of the most important foundations to health. Because no matter how well a person eats, how much exercise one gets, or how much one tries to sleep, none of this will matter if those systems are shut down in the body.
With all of this in mind, here is a proposed morbidity chart showing estimated numbers associated with causes of death in the US. If one were to assume that certain causes of death outlined in this essay are preventable and/or reversible, it’s fair to say that certain diseases are completely within the patient’s ability to control. For instance, with proper diet and weight control Type 2 diabetes is preventable and reversible, stroke risk can be mitigated, and heart disease risk is abated. With increased cardiovascular strength, COPD symptoms are reduced. With proper nutrition, stress management and self-care the devastating pain caused by depression is reduced, in an ideal world resulting in a suicide rate of 0. If diseases such as diabetes were eradicated, taking into account that approximately 5% of the population is born with the irreversible Type 1 diabetes that would leave approximately 5% of the associated deaths per year(ADA, 2018).
This final graph shows just how dramatically applying these four pillars of health can be to the overall health of the nation. Furthermore, as one can see with the emphasis on heart disease and the other contenders for the top ten causes of death in the US reduced by this simple means, more emphasis can be placed on more complex diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease.
In conclusion, it is easy to see that the health problems that affect the American populace are varied and complex. Through the implementation of these four Pillars of Health, a silver lining can be found. By increasing the amount of exercise one gets, improving one’s diet, maintaining the proper amount of sleep and proper stress management, one should be able to drastically reduce risk factors for many of the deadliest maladies in America.
CDC. (2017, May 3). FastStats. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm
American Diabetes Association. (2018). Type 1 Diabetes. Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-1/
Rutkowski, P. (2006, July). Renal disease in obesity: the need for greater attention. — PubMed — NCBI. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16825023
De la Monte, S., & Wands, J. R. (2008, November). Alzheimer’s Disease Is Type 3 Diabetes’Evidence Reviewed. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2769828/
Preidt, R. (2014, October 16). How long will it take to burn off that soda? Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-long-will-it-take-to-burn-off-that-soda/
Harris, J., Bargh, J., & Brownell, K. (2010, July). Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2743554/
National Sleep Foundation. (2018). National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times/page/0/1
Olson, M.D., E. (2015, June 9). Can lack of sleep make you sick?. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/expert-answers/lack-of-sleep/faq-20057757
What can be done to promote better health for the American population?
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