What have you got to lose?
North Carolina’s official toast boldly proclaims that ours is a state where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great. But we can never be that great state as long as so many of us are so unhealthy.
According to the non-profit United Health Foundation North Carolina ranks 33rd in overall health, continually among the bottom third of states. One in three children is overweight or obese while 26.5 percent of white, 42.9 percent of black and 24.8 percent of Hispanic adults are obese. Twice as many overweight adults have high blood pressure and one in 10 adults have diabetes. We rank 31st in physical inactivity. 24.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 32.6 percent of non-Hispanic blacks lead sedentary lifestyles.
We are paying a huge price for our poor health. Obese workers have 21 percent higher health costs and will cost employers more than $250,000 in lost productivity over their careers, clogging doctor and hospital waiting rooms. The average health insurance premium for a family of four now costs $15,745. Coupled with the fact that 27.6 percent of North Carolinians under 18 live in poverty and you can understand why 1.5 million under age 65 have no health insurance and even more are on Medicaid.
Here’s the good news. 53 percent of all deaths and a large percentage of chronic health conditions are preventable, but the cures won’t come from new wonder drugs, medical procedures and certainly not from government. For too long we, as individuals, have failed to understand and be proactive in our own health outcomes.
A new statewide health care initiative, A Healthier NC, has been launched following a day-long health care forum and a yearlong collaboration of leading health professionals. This campaign has four main elements. The first step is to educate citizens to know what healthy looks like. Too many of us don’t know our blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and blood sugar numbers. Many of the 1.2 North Carolinians with pre-diabetes or diabetes are not even aware of it. Step two is to inform people of their responsibility in better health and lower costs, followed by education on smart access to health care. For too many the emergency department is the first line of care, but is also the most expensive. A relationship with a personal physician will lead to better health and lower costs.
One reality of health care isn’t often discussed. While doctors and hospitals are good at curing illnesses they are not good at treating behavioral issues. Weight loss, increased physical activity and breaking addictions to smoking, alcohol and drugs require a strong support group. Individuals need to join together through businesses, neighbors and civic and religious groups to help each other.
To make this both fun and demonstrate results the exciting element in this campaign is a statewide health care challenge. A Healthier NC’s goal is to involve 1 million North Carolinians in 15 million hours of activity with the goal of losing 10 million pounds of weight. This challenge was patterned after one in Oklahoma City, where the mayor challenged that city to lose one million pounds…and they did.
We can do better. We can be healthier and greatly reduce health care costs. Get started by visiting the website Ahealthiernc.com. What have you got to lose?
Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 5 a.m. Contact him at www.ncspin.com.