(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, another victim. Every day, 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 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.
Obesity has its roots in our culture, our schools, our workplaces, and our homes and daily lives. Culturally, we associate food with love. We mistakenly think a ‘big healthy baby' is healthy, when in fact the child might not be healthy at all. We heap food on bigger and bigger plates thinking it is a show of our affection and caring, when in fact that very attempt to demonstrate love actually harms our health.
In Savannah, according to the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the hospitality industry 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 scan of the menu items on most restaurants and you will have to ask why is it that so many businesses are slowly killing their customers with too much fat, too much salt, and too much alcohol?
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 move their body for health on a regular basis by ourselves. 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 the adults are obese. More than one-third of all adults in Georgia who are between 45 and 64 years of age-adults who should be at their most productive in life-are obese. Among African-Americans, the rate is even higher.
Nearly one-third of adults in Georgia suffer from high blood pressure-over 1.6 million people. If these trends continue, the projection is that by the year 2030 there will be over 2.2 million adults in Georgia with heart disease-more than 5 times the number today - and over 300,000 adults with 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 that robs children of their parents and the nation of its most viable future. As important as policy, however, there are many small steps you can make in your own life to help assure 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 was a young boy growing up in Harlem in New York City, my family was at one time homeless, often flat broke, and 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 in my life. Ever since that day, I have taken a whole lot of small steps, every day, to later 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 of chronic disease by no longer killing ourselves through our choices about food, exercise, and how we feel about ourselves.
If you join us in this movement-if you join the Canyon Ranch Institute Savannah Partnership-if you take just one small step toward a healthier life every day starting today, I promise you that you will feel happier, think clearer, be healthier, and experience more success in your life.
Help us help you experience the power and possibility of a healthy world here in Savannah. Thank you.
Dr. Richard Carmona and Dr. Andrew Pleasant work with the Canyon Ranch Institute. If you're interested in joining the effort to create a healthy green space filled with healthy food and flowering plants, let us know by telephoning CRI in Savannah at (912) 443-3264; Tweeting@CRIHealthyWorld, or by emailing CRI@canyonranchinstitute.org