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Archive for Friday, December 21, 2007

Healthy choices

Lifestyle choices don’t totally determine good health, but they can’t hurt.

December 21, 2007

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The state's top health policy official makes an interesting point about good health being at least partially a matter of choice.

Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment Rod Bremby, a Lawrence resident, has been much in the news lately because of his decision to deny permits for some new coal-fired power plants in western Kansas. This week he took on what might be considered a less controversial topic when he spoke to Lawrence Noon Rotary Club about health and the importance of prevention.

When it comes to health care in America, the focus often is on rising costs, the availability of health insurance and other policy issues. But what Bremby pointed out, is that perhaps the best thing anyone can do is make personal decisions that reduce the chances they will have to seek out health care services. His top three suggested behavioral changes were: eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, engage in 30 minutes of physical activity at least three times a week, and avoid tobacco products.

It sounds easy enough, but it's a choice. That means it's up to each individual to decide whether he or she is willing to commit to those lifestyle changes.

Of course, eating fruits and vegetables, exercising and avoiding tobacco is not a guarantee of good health. Many hereditary factors and unknown triggers also figure into a person's overall health. But Bremby's point is that regardless of what other health factors are at work, almost everyone can improve their chances of living a healthy life by undertaking a few simple lifestyle changes.

He even cited a dramatic example of a company that was able to cut its health-care costs by 14 percent in each of the next three years after convincing its employees to attend seminars to educate them about preventing heart disease. The decline in health-care costs is a tangible indication that a group of employees might be making better-informed choices about their health.

Even with prevention, all of us will need health care at some time in our lives, so the policy issues still must be addressed - and there are health factors that, for whatever reason, are out of our control. But it's an interesting thought that we have at least some choice when it comes to perhaps life's more precious commodity, good health.

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