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Dr. Michael R. Mantell Headshot

Optimal Health and Health Disparity

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At the recent 33rd Annual International Convention and Trade show of IHRSA 2014 in San Diego, I urged my colleagues in a presentation I did to disrupt, lead and innovate by speeding past the current model of the gym and begin creating "Optimal Health Centers." Here's, in part, a glimpse why: health disparity.

In his must-read book, Next Medicine: The Science and Civics of Health, America's leading voice in health and wellness, Walter Bortz, M.D. observed that the "Financial interests of biotech and drug companies have eroded the values of the medical profession and placed profit before human well-being." Dr. Bortz noted, "Heart disease, for example, is widely treated with drug interventions and invasive surgery...But daily exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent heart disease and can be obtained by patients for free."

Free. Exercise costs nothing to prevent heart disease. Still, Canyon Ranch Institute notes, "Men and women of color die on average five years earlier than their white counterparts and disparities among Hispanic Americans are rising."

And USA TODAY reports that "African-Americans are more likely to suffer heart disease and diabetes than whites. The cancer death rate for men is a good deal higher than it is for women. American Indians and Alaska Natives are more likely to smoke tobacco than Hispanics, blacks or whites. And Native Hawaiian adults are less likely to exercise than other ethnic groups."

We know there are differences between groups of people in America that affect how often a disease affects them. Race or ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and geographic location all contribute to an individual's ability to achieve good health according to MedlinePlus.

The AMA is feverishly at work on this concern with their program, "Working Together to End Racial and Ethnic Disparities: One Physician at a Time" to help physicians and medical students eliminate gaps in health care based on race and culture.

The American Psychological Association is also mindful of this and working on an initiative.

A Vanderbilt University study found that health disparities between white and black adults in the South are not connected to a lack of exercise but more likely related to other factors such as access to health care, socioeconomic status and perhaps genetics, according to a Vanderbilt study published in PLoS ONE.

Dr. Mark McClellan, former head of the Centers for Meicare and Medicaid Services noted in an interview in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch earlier this year, "We must find ways to help more Americans stay healthy and reduce the health care costs that are crowding out other national priorities."

A study at Indiana University-Purdue University in the Department of Physical Education points to an answer. NiCole Keith, the study's author, said she expected the study to show similar physical fitness levels between two groups whose major difference was access to exercise. One group was affiliated with affluent medical fitness centers and the other to community health centers. The findings, however, showed that the fitness center participants performed significantly better on each of seven physical fitness measures when compared to the CHC participants. The latter group, were largely more vulnerable and without health insurance, otherwise the groups' age.

Sure we need to address causes of health disparities, as described by HealthyPeople.gov that include:

• A high-quality education
• Nutritious food
• Decent and safe housing
• Affordable, reliable public transportation
• Culturally sensitive health care providers
• Health insurance
• Clean water and non polluted air

But it's high time fitness professionals, gym owners, health coaches, physical therapists, registered dieticians and allied fitness professionals including physicians, nurses, psychologists, chiropractors, pharmacists, and others come together, work together, collaboratively, equally, status-free, and create Optimal Health Centers available to all. These centers would promote with single-minded passion, full soundness in body, mind and spirit, with freedom from physical disease and pain. Prevention, not treatment.

The Optimal Health Center, as I envision it, focuses on helping all create proper nutrition, physical activity, mental/emotional wellbeing, recuperative sleep and relaxation, proper focus on preventive health care, healthy relationships, continuous renewal, and spiritual balance. This new "fitness center" can be an answer to health disparity.

This goes beyond today's gym, focus on six pack abs, blasting biceps and simple diets. This goes beyond easy access to exercise and healthy food, safe housing and transportation. This trains the arrow on the full wheel of optimal health for all. I believe the health coach, fitness professional and allied fitness professional need to step up and hand in hand lead, be frontrunners, and true trailblazers in this initiative.

It takes teamwork, focus and putting health before profit. This is surely the biggest challenge.

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