What Determines Your Health?

Last week I had the opportunity to listen to Dr. David Williams, Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health speak at an event hosted by Truman Medical Center. What Dr. Williams said was not particularity new news to those of us who closely follow health matters…however, his presentation clearly painted a picture of mediocrity for the United States health care system.

For example, Dr. Williams presented research findings that show:

  • Immigrants from almost any county tend to have better health outcomes than natural born residents of that country and the immigrants health declines with increasing length of stay in America.
  • A person’s zip code is a better predictor of health outcomes than a person’s genetic code. Crime, lack of education, poverty all affects a person’s health outcomes. On average, the higher net worth residents has better health outcomes than those who live in poverty.
  • Only 6% of the world’s population lives in the United States and yet we consume over 50% of all medical resources spent in the world… and in general United States health outcomes are worse than most industrialized countries. We have the best trained doctors and medical personnel in the world but we have one of the worst health care systems.
  • In the United States, we spend over 95% of all health care dollars on the treatment of illness and less than 5% on the prevention of illness.

Clearly, our current health care system is dysfunctional because it is focused on illness rather than wellness. Hospitals and medical professional should be rewarded for keeping us healthy rather than to be paid only for treating us after we become ill.

The health reform bill signed into law last year by President Obama is a step in the right direction in getting us to focus more on prevention…but it is up to each of us to do our part to stay healthy by excising, eating fresh fruits and not smoking. Our public officials have to take leadership roles in improving current public policy issues like poverty, crime, improving our education, job training, and providing better parks and sidewalks for us to use…especially in zip codes where low income people live.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.

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