Apr 7, 2015

Interviewer: Healthiest nation by 2030. That's coming up next, on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical News and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: The American Public Health Association has announced for this year's National Public Health week, the emphasis is healthiest nation by 2030. We're talking to Dr. Kyle Bradford Jones, family physician at the University of Utah. So Dr. Jones, is that even a realistic goal?

Dr. Jones: You know, it's definitely an ambitious goal and it's the type of thing we should be shooting for. But we do face an uphill battle, it's going to take a lot of work. A number of studies have shown that when you look at developed countries, we're the lowest in infant mortality, obesity, heart disease, and what's called Healthy Life Expectancy at age 60, so the number of healthy years you can expect once you're age 60.

When the Commonwealth Fund did a study of 11 developed nations, we came in 11th. When the World Health Organization did a study, which has become quite famous, a number of years ago, we ranked 37th in the world in terms of our health. So we've got a long ways to go.

Interviewer: Even though, I feel like in the minds of most people, that the U.S. is just so high in ranking according to some of our health stats, I mean people come to the United States for health treatments, but that might not actually be the best idea, from the stats you're telling us. We're not doing a very good job.

Dr. Jones: Well we certainly have the best physicians in the world, and a lot of the best hospitals, and the best innovations. The problem is, that doesn't make it to all of our citizens. And part of the reason we're in this position, is because we're not focusing on the right things. So as a family physician, I can only do so much. So we've found that when you look at an individual's entire health, only about 10% of it is impacted by their health care.

Now obviously that's an important 10%, so over about 50% of what goes in towards a person's health has to do with their environment, and that's kind of the element of public health. Of focusing on those things that go around us both culturally as well as things like pollution, that really are the biggest impactors of our health.

Interviewer: So what are some of the methods and ways that we can actually improve our public health care system to reach that healthiest nation goal by 2030?

Dr. Jones: So there are a number of different avenues to do this. Basically it's going to take participation from everyone. If you look at it from the perspective of the health care system, there has been a lot of talk in the last few years about how do you properly bring together primary care and public health because obviously we have very complementary goals. But we each have different ways of going about those goals. So better working together can make a much bigger impact.

If you look at it from the perspective of as our society, we need some policies that focus a little more on health. So, for example, tackling pollution, tackling some of those things that greater impact us. Encouraging, on a local level, exercise and healthy food. So things like putting in bike lanes on local streets that encourage more exercise by citizens.

When you look at it from a business standpoint, a lot of employers are offering wellness plans which encourages better eating, better exercise, encourages people to take better care of themselves. Which leads us to individuals.

What can we do personally, and basically it's all the things that our mothers taught us. Eat your vegetables, have a healthy diet, get your exercise, get as much activity as you can, drink lots of water, avoid junk food. And even things like avoiding distracted driving. So don't text while driving, don't use your phone at all while driving; don't eat. All those things will take us away from that.

So if we're following some of these goals, if we're working towards becoming the healthiest nation by 2030, we're going to have to go about it by many different avenues.

Interviewer: This sounds like a lot of work, but if it's a lot of individual work coming together, like a team.

Dr. Jones: Exactly.

Interviewer: From what you've described so far about the methods and the goals to get there, it seems pretty simple. It seems like we're actually, supposedly, in that state right now but we've been kind of stuck. Why do you think that is?

Dr. Jones: That's true. The answers seem relatively simple, but there's so many cultural changes that we are kind of behind on in addressing some of these health issues. You know, as we know, politically it's hard to get anything done, whether it's logical or not. Individually it's hard to change our behaviors. So it's important for us to try to and work towards that but it's not an easy thing.

Interviewer: So what are some of the things then that we can take away, or we can learn from some of the other developed countries that are actually in higher ranking than we are in relations to public health.

Dr. Jones: It's a great question and something we should be focusing more on. A lot of it has to do with more emphasis by the society and culture on public health, and like we mentioned, more than half of our health has to do with our environment.

A lot of this is cultural. With cultural things in America, we follow a lot of fast food, we do things like that. Whereas in many other countries, they focus a little bit more on eating at home, cooking their food which is obviously a lot healthier. So those are different things we can move towards, here, to help us be healthier.

Interviewer: So do you think this is realistic? Realistically talking, by 2030?

Dr. Jones: Maybe. Like I said, it's going to take a lot of work, but it's an appropriate goal. It's what we should be shooting for.

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