A Public Letter : Secretary DeVos Let's Make America Healthy Again

02/28/2017 09:02 pm ET Updated Mar 02, 2017

Dear Secretary DeVos,

My name is Bill Couzens; I am a proud Michigander and the founder of Less Cancer, a small, underfunded non-profit working to end the over 50 percent of preventable cancers.

Our work in cancer prevention is different from the better funded industry of cancer treatment. We feel like the unacknowledged sibling, less glamorous but in the field working every day to make life better for millions of people. In that sense, we feel a kinship to teachers, whose important work in society so often goes unnoticed.

When you prevent cancer, you save lives, you save patients, families, and friends from the suffering and trauma of treatment, and you save money for individuals, insurance companies, and the entire healthcare system.

Our organization was founded with the understanding that we cannot help everyone, but we know there are opportunities through education and policy to shape healthy futures.

Advocating for cancer prevention, just like working to secure a good education for our children, is a non-partisan goal. Even people from opposite sides of a political spectrum should and can be able to work together towards those goals. That’s what real leadership is all about – collaboration.

We can do this because its all about our kids and their kids and making sure that we do all we can to protect their futures.

We know that some people need help to secure that protection for themselves and their children.

That’s where you come in…

As you dedicate yourself to educating this generation, you can affect positive health impacts, by helping to prevent a multitude of chronic illness, including preventable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Education and the total school experience can be a bridge to preventing illness, and we need you to help in leading that charge.

In my birthplace of Detroit, last reports show a functional literacy rate of 47 percent. So teachers have a big task. And they do so much more than just teach for grades and scores, administering to many facets of a child’s life. Right or wrong, a teacher today fulfills many of a child’s needs from providing the tools to be a good student to being a caregiver ensuring students have everything from a nutritious meal to a Band-Aid.

I just do not know how they do it.

Recently you said, “We know the system is failing too many kids. Why? Because our nation’s test scores have flatlined. Because 1.3 million children drop out of school every year. Because the previous administration spent seven billion of your dollars on “School Improvement Grants,” thinking they could demonstrate that money alone would solve the problem. Yet their own report, issued as they walked out the door, showed that it had zero impact on student outcomes and performance. They tested their model, and it failed … miserably.”

I understand your concern on that one particular slice of the education pie; however, the missed headline is that seemingly more children than ever before will be having worse health than previous generations. How can we possibly have stronger students with better scores if they are in the midst of battling hunger and poor health?

We are raising a “sicker” America.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 13.1 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. (Feeding America)

America’s students are dealing with chronic illnesses at unprecedented rates. The Center for Disease Control reports that Asthma, for example, has accounted for 10.5 million missed school days annually.

In the next twenty years according to the World Health Organization, we will be looking at a 57 percent increase in cancer incidences.

The work to prevent cancer, in turn, works to prevent other chronic illnesses; for instance, when you work to fight obesity you, in turn, are also fighting a preventable cancer risk.

There is not one fix to education, in the same way, there is not one fix for cancer. Now is the time to be smarter, pioneering and more enterprising in solving our children’s preventable health challenges.

There is a chance to do some transformative work to protect our children so we can help them secure a healthy future.

A better educated America is a healthier America. We can do amazing things if we truly think of meeting our children’s needs first.

Let’s see how we can work together to make America healthy again.

 

CONVERSATIONS