By Dennis Archambault
It more than rhymes with wealth; it is wealth. Like a smart investor, you use it wisely to protect and enhance your personal safety. It’s not an end-all, but an essential component of holistic well-being.
From a negative perspective, to be without health is costly, if only through modest co-payments on insurance. But they may be considerable, draining your discretionary income. From a social equity perspective, an unhealthy start in life puts a child at great disadvantage for developing their mind and body; their learning capacity is lessened, and ultimately their earning ability leaves them socially disadvantaged.
If you are physically unhealthy, you are limited in your movement, literally and figuratively. This does not impact your will, of course, and much can be overcome. When you live in a life-threatening, or life-limiting disease state, you may be enriched by the experience and motivated by the challenge to overcome it, but you still are placed at an economically and socially disadvantaged state.
Yet, we value money far more. With it, we may feel empowered, mobile, comfortable. Without it, we may feel impoverished, desiring. We may need to sacrifice quality of life to “earn a living,” or we may choose to do so to maximize our “quality of life.” We will deny our health on all levels — nutrition, exercise, safety — in the pursuit of wealth. It’s about the money, they say. Yet we wonder where the money goes when more than 17 percent of the gross national product is spent on health care, yet the American society ranks lower than many developed nations in health and quality of life.
Life is unfair, yet an enlightened society finds ways to achieve social justice. That is the work of population health. It’s more than an individual’s responsibility — or misfortune. It is a social responsibility, if only to contain the massive, often misdirected fiscal expenditures and drain on productivity. It is also an individual responsibility to make the most of what they have and to use the power of human will to overcome barriers.
If we agree that health is wealth, how does one create wealth? Create Health, an alternative, interdisciplinary approach to enhancing well-being, defines health as “to bring into existence something not previously seen or experienced or is significant different from the past.” http://createhealth.info/what_is_health.htm. Most views of creating health involve restoring health from a disease or injury state. There is another perspective that assumes the absence of infirmity and the creative ability of human beings to marshal the will to enhance their well-being. And in the case of population health, the ability of an enlightened society to create an environment that allows this to occur.
Others are a little less esoteric in how they define creating health: it’s about creating an environment steeped in values, culture, sensible eating, leisure exercise, constructive socialization, and relaxation http://www.sparkpe.org/blog/how-to-create-well-rounded-healthy-family/. This is hardly new. Advice columns and popular magazines have been advocating this for years in the name of “lifestyle.”
Also well-covered in the popular media is the mind/body/spirit equation. Deficiencies in one can impact the other component, but enhancing all — individually and through an integrated approach — is a method of creating health. For example, working on self-discovery, physical development, and spiritual exploration often results in enhanced well-being.
Much has been communicated about what informed and motivated individuals can and should do to enhance their health and well-being. Less covered, however, is the role that population health plays in creating environments that foster health. Just as the public sector is called on to create conditions favorable to individual and business economic development, the same is true with public health.
The World Health Organization http://www.who.int/management/working_paper_9_en_opt.pdf and the World Bank http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/2007/01/8348853/healthy-development-world-bank-strategy-health-nutrition-population-results articulate visions for how health systems — not the hospital systems known by the same term in the United States — can contribute to improved population health.
Economic development, especially in desperate urban areas of the United States, looks first and foremost at the potential of business development for job creation and related wealth for communities through taxing and consumerism. However, communities should be looking at the importance that a healthy, productive population creates wealth. The negative is well-known: an unhealthy population is unproductive and a drain on societal resources.
So why does society allow expenditures for public health programs to be cut continuously instead of “investing” in the health infrastructure the way society invests in roads and sewer systems? Why is prosperity defined only in terms of business and why isn’t health defined as prosperity?
To draw from the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield, health doesn’t get much respect in this society.
Dennis Archambault is director of Public Affairs for the Detroit Wayne County Health Authority.