The United States has incredible medical science and innovative means of treating illnesses — yet it doesn’t do well in translating those advances to improving the health of citizens throughout the country.
John R. Lumpkin, senior vice president and director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Care Group, hopes to reframe the conversation from how to improve health care to how to improve health by building a culture around it. Lumpkin will give a lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater.
Week Nine’s theme at Chautauqua Institution is “Health Care: From Bench to Bedside,” and Lumpkin’s lecture is an appropriate segue to the 2015 Week Nine theme, “Creating Healthy Communities.”
It is important to realize, Lumpkin said, that the U.S. spends more on health care than does any other industrialized nation in the world, yet health outcomes are poor, the population lags behind in life expectancy, teenage pregnancy and obesity rates are higher, and physical activity is lower.
“In many ways, we have a culture that promotes unhealthiness, so we need to reframe it to look at our culture and how that culture can promote health — to changing the discussion to how we see that health is involved in almost every kind of policy decision that’s made in this country,” he said.
Various studies indicate that the ZIP code in which a person lives is an important predictor of his or her health as genetic code. Life expectancy is related to where a person lives, and community design can affect health; for example, neighborhoods without sidewalks can make it difficult or unsafe for residents to exercise, Lumpkin said.
“It’s the balance of expenditures,” he said. “We expend more on curing people and other industrialized countries spend more on the kinds of infrastructure changes that are important to promote health, and it’s always more expensive to treat an illness.”
One of the biggest threats to public health is childhood obesity; there has been a tremendous increase, even since 1990, in overweight and obese children. Some signs indicate the reversal of the tide in childhood obesity, however; cities have instituted policies encouraging activity and play during and after school, and some school lunches now include more fresh fruits and vegetables.
“The true risk is that the current generation of children may live sicker and die younger than their parents,” Lumpkin said. “It’s caution mixed with optimism.”
At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Health Care Group, Lumpkin works to address issues of early childhood that can affect them later, such as exposure to violence and trauma, as well as arming as many people as possible with health insurance.
Moving toward a culture of health means not only improving health care, but recognizing that health is the job of everyone, Lumpkin said. Businesses, schools, urban planners and others have a clear role to play in producing healthy communities and workforces. Health needs to be the easy choice, Lumpkin said.
“We begin to talk about choices that individuals make, the environment that’s established based on community policy and the role of public health and the health care system,” he said.