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A Healthier Tomorrow – January 2018

A Healthier Tomorrow

Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow

By Alison Page

Have you ever closed your eyes and imagined what your life would be like if you were as healthy as you could possibly be?  Can you imagine what our children’s lives would look like if they were as healthy as they could possibly be?  Can you imagine what a community looks like that supports the health of everyone who lives there?  What would this look like….imagine.

Well, as it turns out, some people have done more than imagine what this looks like. They have, in fact, studied it.  The University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have studied and identified the things that really matter in terms of impacting the health of individuals and communities.  For purposes of the study, they defined “health” as being a combination of length of life (50%) and quality of life (50%).  Then, they looked at all the factors that contribute to a person’s health and identified the factors that have the greatest impact.  The study showed that the factors impacting health (the determinants of heath) fall into four categories. 

Category 1 – Health Behaviors account for 40% of the things that impact the overall health of a person.  The key behaviors that impact health include tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol and drug use, and sexual activity.

Category 2 – Access to good quality Clinical Care accounts for 20% of the impact on health. 

Category 3 – Social and Economic Factors account for 40% of the impact on a person’s health.  Things like education, employment, income, family and social support, and community safety greatly impact the likelihood of a person living a long and healthy life. 

Category 4 – A person’s Physical Environment accounts for about 10% of the impact on his/her health.  Specific factors in this category include the quality of air and water in the person’s environment, and access to housing and transit. 

Now can you start to imagine a healthier tomorrow?  They say it takes a village to raise a child.  That is true, but I say, “It takes a nation to raise a healthy child.”  A child’s likelihood of living a long and healthy life is as much impacted by the child’s level of education, opportunities for employment, eventual income, and access to housing as it is by his/her personal choices to smoke cigarettes, drink or exercise.  All of these factors are important and all of them must be addressed.  We can do a lot to address these factors and impact the health and wellbeing of our citizens at the community level.  But, our state and federal policies matter; they must support and align with efforts we know will make a difference for the future health of our children and grandchildren. 

At Western Wisconsin Health our mission is to Build a Healthier Tomorrow…Together.  Providing access to excellent medical care to manage emergent situations, acute care needs and chronic disease is core to what we do.  But, it is not enough.  If we are going to truly impact the overall health of the communities in the region, we need to envision a much greater role and engage other organizations and government agencies to shape the future.  Together, we can Build a Healthier Tomorrow. 

I believe it was Teddy Roosevelt who said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”  We can’t wave a magic wand and have the stars align to recreate our communities into perfect places that encompass and optimize all the determinants of health.  We can’t immediately change state and federal laws that impact social and environmental policies.  But, we can start.  We start by doing what we can, with what we have, where we are.  

In the future we will discuss topics related to the four categories and the specific factors that influence health and how we might impact them.  We will discuss ideas and perspectives, along with the pros and cons of those ideas.

I invite you to join the dialogue.  Please contact me with your ideas or questions that can be addressed in future columns.  I can be reached at 715-684-1100 or alison.page@wwhealth.org.

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