(Note: The following is one of a series of articles from the Canyon Ranch Institute dedicated to showing people how to live healthier and encouraging folks to take small steps to adjust their lifestyle.)
There is a silent killer in the United States. Every day, there is another victim, another missed opportunity to save a life.
In this murder mystery, the smoking gun is the steady rise in chronic disease. The irony of it all is that we are pulling the trigger ourselves.
To become a healthier nation, we must transform our fundamental approach to health. We must move away from the current "sick care" system that is more focused on treating disease to a true health care system that is more focused on prevention.
In the U.S., we spend more money on health care than any other nation in the world, yet we rank 50th in terms of life expectancy. If we focus our resources on prevention, we can and will reduce health care costs and improve health and well-being.
From the beginning of life, racial and ethnic minorities and underserved communities experience health disparities. In the U.S., the infant mortality rate for African Americans and American Indians is more than twice that of the national average.
The situation doesn’t improve as children grow up. Men and women of color die, on average, five years earlier than their white counterparts, and disparities among Hispanic Americans are rising.
Underpinning those grim truths about our nation, and our national security, is the reality that obesity is the fastest-growing cause of disease and death in America. It has its roots in our culture, schools, workplaces, homes and daily lives. We associate food with love, heaping it on bigger and bigger plates as a show of affection and caring, when in fact, that attempt to demonstrate love actually harms our health. We see an overweight child as a "big, healthy baby,"when in fact, the child may not be healthy at all.
According to the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the hospitality industry in Savannah produces about $1.6 billion annually and employs over 22,000 people, or about 27 percent of the total workforce. Despite those clear benefits, if you take a quick look at the menu items of most restaurants, you may wonder why so many businesses are killing their customers slowly with too much fat, salt and alcohol.
The Canyon Ranch Institute is working with Charles H. and Rosalie Morris, Connect Savannah, Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care Inc., Savannah Urban Garden Alliance and a steadily growing number of other businesses, organizations and individuals to help make Savannah a healthier place to live, work and visit.
To make that transformation in your community, we need your help. None of us can change the culture of food that currently exists in Savannah by ourselves; none of us can change the number of people who do not regularly exercise by ourselves; and none of us can help all of Savannah find a healthy sense of purpose — the desire and drive to live a long, healthy and productive life — by ourselves.
In Georgia, nearly one-third of adults are obese. More than one-third of those adults ages 45 to 64 — adults who should be at their most productive time in life — are obese. Among African-Americans, the rate is even higher.
Nearly one-third of adults in Georgia — more than 1.6 million people — suffer from high blood pressure. If these trends continue, the projection is that by the year 2030, more than 2.2 million adults in Georgia will have heart disease (more than five times the number today), and more than 300,000 adults will have cancer (nearly three times today’s level).
This must stop.
There are many policy efforts that local and state governments can put into play to address this situation, which robs children of their parents and the nation of its most viable future. As important as policy is, however, there are many small steps you can take in your own life to help ensure that you live the happiest and healthiest life possible.
These changes are not complex; they don’t take a doctor’s degree or a surgeon general to figure out. You have the skills and abilities needed to live a healthier life now, you just need to decide to do it — one day at a time.
When I (Dr. Richard Carmona) was a young boy growing up in Harlem in New York City, my family was at one time homeless and often flat broke. The truth is that I didn’t even graduate from high school.
One day, though, I got smart enough to join the U.S. Army. That was the best "mistake" I’ve ever made. Since that day, I have taken a lot of small steps, every day, later to become the 17th Surgeon General of the United States.
With your help, we can turn the tide on obesity and chronic disease in Savannah. We can kill the silent killer by no longer killing ourselves through our choices about food, exercise and how we feel about ourselves.
If you join us, the Canyon Ranch Institute Savannah Partnership, in this movement, if you begin today to take just one small step toward a healthier life each day, I promise that you will feel happier, think clearer, be healthier and experience more success in your life.
Help us help you to experience the power and possibility of a healthy world here in Savannah.
Dr. Richard Carmona and Dr. Andrew Pleasant work with the Canyon Ranch Institute. If you're interested in joining the effort to create a green space filled with healthy food and flowering plants, let us know by calling CRI in Savannah at (912) 443-3264, tweeting @CRIHealthyWorld or emailing CRI@canyonranchinstitute.org.