11/22/2010 02:00 pm ET | Updated Mar 22, 2016

Why We Came: A Thanksgiving Thought

Mehmet Oz, M.D.
Meeting Shaketa and many other new friends at our Chicago Health Expo this month are at the top of my Thanksgiving blessings this year. She was with her 10 year old son at the free health screening, and this Thanksgiving she has a new outlook, because it's more likely she will be around to see him grow into a fine young man. As I sat with Shaketa in the cavernous tent in Millennium Park, she started to cry. I asked her why. She told me something I hear all the time - she didn't know where to begin to regain her health. The screening had revealed dramatic problems with her most important five numbers - blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, weight and waist size. I held her hand and told her that by signing up for the Know Your 5 screening and coming to the park today she had already started and was headed in the right direction. Speaking for everyone at The Dr. Oz Show and for our partners at Lifeline Screening, I told her very simply "That's why we came." We reviewed her plan of action and emphasized that she needed to care for herself as much everyone around her in the tent did. I am proud that she got screened and agreed to be open with her story which you can see on The Dr. Oz Show, November 24.

As happy as I am for Shaketa, her story is bittersweet. Shaketa's situation has become disturbingly familiar to me. She is one of 11,000 people who have had a "Know Your 5" screening since we launched the program in our season premiere show. I am encouraged by the response and how many people are taking steps to learn their numbers, but I am concerned about the results we are seeing. According to a preliminary data analysis Lifeline has provided for us, approximately 25% of people are living with hypertension, over 30% are diabetic or pre-diabetic, and 43% have problematic cholesterol levels. These results are trending either on par or slightly higher than the national average, but they aren't showing any statistically significant improvement over our failing national health. We theorize this is because about half of the 11,000 screenings we have provided so far have been free and the other half have been at a steeply discounted and subsidized price, meaning the people we are screening may not have access to other medical care and are more likely to be in a situation needing care.
I believe that the obesity crisis in this country is a threat not just to our health and happiness but also to our national security. We are mortgaging our children's future on the size of our omentum fat pad. Not only will most of us not be optimally healthy in our later years, but our children can look forward to a higher incidence of chronic disease than previous generations. I used to believe that if I used every means at my disposal to teach people how to lose weight and lower their blood pressure and other risk factors, they would. Wasn't it just a matter of getting out the word and people would immediately change their diets and lifestyle? I was wrong, and I have learned something along the way.
My epiphany is that people don't change based on what they know, they change based on how they feel. Most of you know that high blood pressure, a large waist, high cholesterol and high blood glucose are problematic. Some of you might even know that your numbers are higher than the acceptable ranges. Amazingly, by controlling the factors in the Know Your Five program, we can reduce heart disease and diabetes by 50% maybe more. But we lack motivation. So instead of regurgitating the same message I have written time and time again about the need for your waist to be half your height, for your blood pressure to be 115 over 70mmHg and for your blood glucose to be under 100mg/dl before eating in the morning, I want to try a different approach.
Think of everyone in your life that you care about. It could be your spouse, children, parents, or best friends. Then think of your absolutely favorite thing to do if you didn't have to go to work. Next, think about the best Thanksgiving you have ever had and everyone that was seated around the table, the laughter shared and the memories. Then hear my fingers snap...and picture it all gone...forever. That is the cost of neglecting your health. That instant is all it takes for a heart attack, stroke, diabetes or other obesity related disease to erase you from the lives of your loved ones and leave an empty chair at that Thanksgiving table. Learning your five numbers and getting those numbers under control can change that outcome and insure that table is full for years to come.
I want each of you to find the motivation that Shaketa did - look around at those who are dependent on you and think about how much joy you bring to them and them to you. You are not alone. We can help you learn your five numbers and it may be the best way to show your appreciation for everything you have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Screenings are available through In the meantime, you can watch Shaketa's story and the story of several others who transformed themselves from sickness to wellness through gratitude and motivation on The Dr. Oz Show, Wednesday, November 24.