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The most neglected key to Better Health

Doctors report the next greatest advance in health care will not come from
a medicine bottle but from individual prevention of disease!


Health-care costs are raising at such an astronomical rate that they are now taking a dime out of every dollar of the average U.S. family's income.

More and more people feel angered, frightened, and helpless before the trend of soaring medical costs on one hand and the increasingly impersonal quality of health care or unsatisfactory health results on the other.

In the United States alone, the expenditure for health care tops $115 billion annually — triple that of a decade ago. That's a national average per capita healthcare spending of around $550 a year, or over $2,000 for an average family of four. Not every person or family spends this staggering sum, but many do.

Today's health services — from doctors' offices to hospitals to psychiatric couches — are swamped with patients. Though we have the best health care in history and we're living longer, millions simply do not enjoy good health or feel good. Each year record amounts are spent on newer and more exotic drugs, sophisticated health gimmickry, and fads in the search for health. But we're not spending most of this money for ailments that plagued our grandfather's generation.

Gone are the great infectious disease epidemics of smallpox, yellow fever, tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid, diphtheria, and polio. The weapons of sanitation and drugs have beaten them down to manageable proportions. But in their place are a growing number of ailments and diseases that characterize "advanced" civilization and often defy medical solution: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, lung diseases, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and nervous disorders.

Modern men and women are plagued with emotional problems, worries, and tensions. Valium and other tranquilizers top penicillin, birth control pills, and pain killers as the most prescribed drugs. Accidents cause another great toll of suffering.

Some 80% of a doctor's work consists of treating minor complaints and giving reassurance. Common colds, minor injuries, gastrointestinal upsets, back pain, arthritis, and psychoneurotic anxiety states account for the vast majority of visits to clinics and doctors' offices.

Many doctors report one out of four people is emotionally tense and worried about insomnia, fatigue, too much or too little appetite, or inability to cope with modern life. An estimated 10% of the population suffers from some form of mental illness, but only one out of seven of these receive any specialized help.

The widespread promotion of "miracle" drugs and the glorification of advanced medical technology have raised unrealistic expectations of what the medical system can do. While modern medical tools are helpful, even necessary and life-saving in many cases, too many are laboring under the illusion that the miracles of medicine alone will keep them well, and that the answer to all of their health problems somehow lies in a colorful little pill.

Unfortunately, safe, quick, and sure cures are few and far between. Powerful new drugs have helped millions but they have also injured and even killed many others by adverse reactions.


New Direction Needed

There is no absolute guarantee any of us will be able to escape any modern health problem. Some environments or disease-causing agents may be beyond our effective control. But what can we do to better our health or improve our resistance to disease?

Data now support the conclusion that the most common health problems of the average American or Westerner will not be significantly alleviated by increases in the number of hospitals or physicians, by more and more expensive machines for diagnosis and treatment, or by new drugs.

While all of these may be necessary tools in the fight against existing diseases, Dr. John H. Knowles, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, points out the next direction better health care must take: "The individual must realize that a perpetuation of the present system of high-cost, after-the-fact medicine will only result in higher costs and more frustration. The next major advance in the health of the American people will result only from what the individual is willing to do for himself."

A recent American Medical Association report also clearly pinpoints the major cause of so many modern health problems: "While much progress has been made in overcoming many historic plagues of mankind, we find more and more illness due, at least in part, to abuse and neglect by the individual himself."

Dr. Knowles says too many Americans have come to look on "gluttony, alcoholic intemperance, reckless driving, sexual frenzy, and smoking" as constitutional rights, and they've come to expect government-financed "cures" for all the unhappy consequences.

Rene Dubos, noted microbiologist and pathologist, observes: "To ward off disease or recover health, men as a rule find it easier to depend on the healers than to attempt the difficult task of living wisely."

The most important key to better health, then, is individual effort to learn and comply with the basic laws and principles that regulate good human health — balanced diets, proper exercise, temperate life-styles.


Shocking Lack of individual Disease Prevention

In 1968, Dr. Dwight L. Wilbur of San Francisco, president of the American Medical Association, declared in a major medical convention speech that "millions resist the arduous and disciplinary requirements of really caring for their inherited body."

He went on to explain that millions falsely "assume there are easy ways to stay well and youthful looking. Instead they turn, among other things, to diet fads, patent medicines, a countless variety of pills, tobacco and alcohol, often instant and inadequate exercise and quacks."

The shocking fact is that around 70% of the over $115 billion annual American health bill goes for drugs, doctors, and hospitals, but only a measly 3% goes for the prevention of disease.

Dr. Lawrence W. Green, who heads the health-education section of Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, emphasizes: "Patient education is a far better way to spend your healthcare dollars than spending them on more hospitals. This gets at the upstream source of the problem. The large amount of monies we are spending now on Medicaid and Medicare deal with health problems that in many cases could have been prevented."

The desperate need for more preventive care has also been scored by various leaders of the American Medical Association in recent reports. Unfortunately the message gets sparse emphasis from the medical profession as a whole in its daily practice.

The great majority of doctors are trained to apply medical solutions to most health problems, however trivial, and patients themselves have been educated to expect them. In many cases patients are incensed if they don't get a prescription to "quick fix" their ailment.

"Give me a pill to solve my problem, doc!" or "Fix me up; don't ask me to change my life!" are far too common attitudes.

Doctors often refer to a "20-year abuse syndrome," meaning that many persons can abuse their naturally good health for 20 or so years before degenerative diseases begin to catch up with them.

Consider heart disease. A lot has yet to be learned about the development of this disease. Yet it is common knowledge that heavy smoking and drinking, high-fat diets, obesity, and lack of exercise play a significant role in many cases. Yet these "causes" can be moderated or actually eliminated without going the costly drug route in most cases.

Consider cancer. It would be erroneous to oversimplify the causes of the over one hundred various forms of this disease, for there are many. Among the newly discovered factors are heredity and emotions which may predispose certain individuals to cancerous (or some other) disease, given a certain set of bodily abuses or stresses. Still, the American Cancer Society estimates 80% of cancer cases are caused, directly or indirectly, by chemicals or other agents in our environment.

Through careless habits of smoking, eating chemically loaded diets, drinking too much alcohol, or careless and prolonged contact with known carcinogenic agents, many individuals are greatly increasing their chances of being the one in four Americans who will eventually be afflicted by the cancer plague.

Not all sources of chemical pollution can be avoided in our modern industrial societies, but more careful concern about what we eat, breathe, or handle adds to our odds of preventing future disease and sickness.

Diets are a major cause of many health problems — a fact that nutritionists have stressed over and over for years. A few years ago, a government committee was given evidence of the deteriorating quality of the average American diet.”Americans take better care of their automobiles than they do of their own bodies," remarked a shocked senator. We are "a nation of nutritional illiterates," he concluded.

More recently, Dr. Theodore Cooper, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare's assistant secretary for health, declared in a report which was titled Health, United States, 1975: "The data suggest that much improvement in health status could come from individual action."

In other words, Americans — as well as many other people throughout the world — still have not learned some of the seemingly most obvious health lessons: They can become healthier simply by a willingness to exercise properly, to quit overeating, to stop drinking so much, to reduce late hours, to avoid too much drug consumption, to live more temperate lives, and to control their emotions.

These suggestions pretty well sum up the rules of good health in a nutshell.

It is not the intention of this article to oversimplify the causes of any health problem or to detract from the knowledge and skill of medical practitioners or options available for treating existing ailments. Individuals with existing or special health problems should seek help and advice from reputable health officials before they make any radical changes in their eating or exercise habits.


Disease Prevention: The Best Health Measure

Fortunately, more and more doctors are facing° up to the greatest shortcoming of our modern health-care system: lack of emphasis on disease prevention!

Our body operates by impressive laws. Lifestyle, exercise, and dietary habits are really the key parameters in the health equation. And while it is true that we certainly don't live in an ideal, stress-free, pollution-free world, the more we stick with the foundation blocks of good health, the better off we will be.

Lewis Herber, in Our Synthetic Environment, page 202, states the crux of the matter simply: "Whether . . . [a person] likes it or not, there are 'rules of the game,' which must be obeyed if an environmental change is to advance human vigor, resistance to disease, and longevity. When these rules, simple as they may be, are transgressed, nature takes its revenge in the form of ill health and disease. When they are obeyed, man's life can be full, creative, and remarkably free of physical impairment."