Dear Mr. President,
With health care reform stalled, I encourage you to look more deeply at the issue of American health and see that you have the capacity to create profound progress in that area, regardless of the politics of new legislation right now. Reliable sources say that 75% of disease is related to lifestyle and fixing that 75% has less to do with health insurance and far more to do with health education and creating healthy lifestyles.
That's why I suggest that you declare a Summer of Health in 2010, building upon the concept of your Summer of Service in 2009. During a Summer of Health, we would make a nationwide push for Americans to support each other in making lifestyle changes and building healthier habits. This will not only save money but improve the psychology of our country, our capacity for creative entrepreneurship, and our competitiveness in the world. Good health strengthens families and companies.
In the zeal to create health care reform, you have overlooked that the deepest, broadest shift we can make to improve American health involves the American people taking greater personal responsibility for changing our poor health habits. We are overweight and we don't exercise enough. We binge on junk food, fast food, sugary beverages and alcohol. We pour a prescription medicine cocktail down our throats every day. We don't sleep enough. We eat too much meat and dairy and too few fresh fruits and vegetables. In short, we treat our bodies with near contempt and then expect a heroic medical industry to take care of the mess we've created.
That simply has to change. And it's not going to happen through reforming health insurance alone.
Your leadership of the American people does not always require pushing new legislation. Something like a Summer of Health can be a profoundly bipartisan initiative that reengages the America people in positive change, beginning with themselves. It can activate your 13 million grassroots base in a massive, web-based education push with viral videos and "health teams" and accountability reminders, all building towards national goals such as having millions quit smoking. People can help create backyard and rooftop vegetable gardens. Teach healthy cooking classes. Mobilize neighborhood pledges for exercise. Launch new sports clubs for kids. Create virtual summits on integrative health and nutrition. The possibilities are limitless for events, activities, pledges, media, and initiatives that could be created under the banner of a Summer of Health. And most of it at the grassroots level with very little federal funding.
What it would take is you leading with the power of your pulpit, gathering Democrats and Republicans together on a Summer to improve American health. Republicans love personal responsibility. A powerful call to the American people to transform our health habits and take personal responsibility for creating a healthy America is a deeper, more inspiring, and more bipartisan approach to fixing what is broken in American health. As energy builds around such a movement, it's natural that some of the best parts of health care reform go through.
The way I see it, health and prosperity are deeply intertwined and so long as we are a country built on unhealthy habits, our prosperity and happiness will suffer. It is time for America to become healthy on all levels, applying what cutting-edge medical research has shown and what those of us who try to live healthful lives have found out: the vast majority of the expenses of our medical care system can be avoided if we live a healthy life every day.
Follow Stephen H. Dinan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stephendinan