Back to basics on public health

April 7, 2023

A doctor showing a man his chart.
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April 7 is World Health Day, a time dedicated to raising awareness of issues in public health. From my experience as a medical doctor and my role at Sedgwick supporting our managed care team and advising on complex workers’ compensation cases, I’ve had a front-row seat in observing how neglecting your health profoundly affects your quality of life. Among other things, poor overall health can make it more difficult to recover from viruses like COVID-19, injuries and other adverse health events. On this World Health Day, I’d like to highlight some fundamental public health issues about which I am passionate and which should merit our attention throughout the year.

Healthy eating

Access to nutritious food is one of many social determinants of health — the nonmedical factors in an individual’s life that affect their health outcomes. Eating the right foods, especially during the early years, is critical to healthy physical and mental development. Lacking access to nutrient-rich food can have a damaging impact on your health status as you age. For many of us, the picture in our minds of hunger and food insecurity is of less developed parts of the world; regrettably, millions of people in prosperous nations like the United States face food insecurity, too.

According to Feeding America, more than 34 million people in the U.S. — among them 9 million children — are food insecure. The number of Americans who turned to food banks and community programs for help putting meals on the table spiked to 53 million in 2021, largely due to unemployment and other economic factors associated with the pandemic. Further, over 2 million Americans live in food deserts, or areas where supermarkets are largely inaccessible without private transportation. Groceries sold in food deserts tend to be more expensive, putting them out of reach for low-income individuals. Inflation and the rising cost of consumer products have exacerbated the issue. Oftentimes, only processed and packaged foods are readily available in food deserts.

Even those with easy access to fresh food struggle to make smart dietary choices. The fast pace of today’s society lends itself to instant gratification and eating on the go, and quick and easy options are often not the healthiest. Poor eating habits (along with a lack of physical activity, as described below) are significant contributors to the rise of diabetes, obesity and other conditions.

Collectively, we must do a better job of making fresh and healthy food accessible to all, as well as providing public education on the importance of smart food choices. Community farming programs in urban food deserts are starting to make a dent, but we still have a long way to go.

Staying active

Now that so many workers perform their duties in front of a screen, with little to no physical labor involved, millions around the world are leading increasingly sedentary lifestyles. According to the Heart Foundation, over 25% of American adults are seated for more than eight hours a day. This slows down blood flow (increasing the risk of clots and heart disease), promotes insulin resistance (increasing the risk of diabetes and obesity), and hinders the body’s processing of fat.

The COVID-era quarantines, indefinite transition of jobs from office-based to remote, and ease of getting items delivered to your doorstep have gotten many into the habit of leaving their homes less frequently. I often hear that “sitting is the new smoking” — the latest public health epidemic we need to address.

To overcome these harmful tendencies, it’s crucial to build activity breaks into your schedule and your life. (If you’re able to take any of your movement breaks outdoors and get some fresh air at the same time, even better!) Where and when appropriate, consider listening in on a conference call or webinar while talking a walk. Get up out of your chair every hour or so. Search the web for suggestions on stretches and “micro-exercises” you can do at your workstation. There are numerous mobile apps that can guide you, and they’ll even remind you when it’s time for a movement break. Find a routine that works for you and that you can carry out consistently.

Health care versus sick care

Regrettably, regularly scheduled well visits to a doctor often end once childhood vaccinations are completed. For many adults, the only time they engage with a health care provider is when they are sick or in pain.

By erroneously equating health care with sick care, people miss out on the invaluable opportunity to learn from a knowledgeable and skilled practitioner how to be well and the healthy behaviors that can help them stay well. Quality health care should focus on the patient’s holistic well-being, but it often becomes more about treating the disease than the person. Establishing a strong doctor-patient relationship requires a sustained investment of time, and many patients are looking for quick, simple fixes for their ailments. While there are, to be sure, times when medication is warranted, it shouldn’t necessarily be the go-to first line of defense.

Multiple studies have identified a high prevalence of people avoiding or delaying medical care — especially well visits, dental checkups and preventive screenings — on account of concerns related to COVID. With the highest COVID risks behind us, now is the time to go see your doctor (or meet with them via telehealth) and to make up a mammogram, colonoscopy or other screening you may have skipped during the pandemic. Your health may very well depend on it.

Key takeaways

This World Health Day, here are a few important and practical things I hope you’ll take on:

  1. Seek out fresh, nutritious and (ideally) locally grown foods.
  2. If you’re able, help to make those options more readily available by contributing to organizations like Feeding AmericaAction Against Hunger or your local food bank or community farming program.
  3. Add regular activity breaks into your daily routine.
  4. Stop procrastinating and schedule that physical exam, dental appointment or preventive screening you’ve been pushing off!

Learn more — visit the World Health Day 2023 website, and read about Sedgwick’s managed care solutions that support employee well-being

Tags: health, Health and wellness, health concerns, Healthcare, Public health, Wellness