I am not a big George Will fan. George is a conservative Republican columnist. His politics and mine are miles apart. Nevertheless, his op-ed this morning in the Washington Post titled Better Health Through Good Choices is right on target. I couldn't agree with him more. He says that modern medicine is not the solution to our good health. Rather, our personal lifestyle choices determine whether we remain healthy or not. Hooray for George.
This article resonated with me for several reasons. First, Will’s introduction to good health through making wise personal decisions happened in 1964, when the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking arrived. He says:
“In September 1958, a future columnist, then 17, was unpacking as a college freshman when upperclassmen hired by tobacco companies knocked on his dormitory door, distributing free mini-packs of cigarettes. He and many other aspiring sophisticates became smokers. Nearly six years later — 50 years ago: Jan. 11, 1964 — when the surgeon general published the report declaring tobacco carcinogenic, more than 40 percent of U.S. adults smoked. Today, when smoking is considered declasse rather than sophisticated, fewer than one-fifth do.”
George Will and I must be about the same age, because my journey to make wise health choices also began in January, 1964, when Luther Terry, the then United States Surgeon General, issued the first report on smoking and health. I immediately gave up smoking. Since then I have become and avid exerciser and advocate of a plant-based whole foods eating style. These, I believe, are the keys to my current good health. My first step was to give up smoking after Terry’s report. For me, that was the beginning of a journey.
In the early 90s, I served on a panel with Dr. Terry in Philadelphia. He was an Emeritus Professor at the University of Pennsylvania at the time. After the session, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Terry. I told him that I gave up smoking the day after I read his Surgeon General's report in 1964, the year I graduated from college. I told him that he probably saved my life. For sure, he helped keep me healthy. I will always remember that conversation with Dr. Terry.
The press is full of talk about the successes or failures of Obamacare and what we should do to improve healthcare in the United States. Of course we need to reduce, hopefully to zero, the number of uninsured in our country. But, equally important is find ways to help people make better choices about nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress reduction and other health promoting behaviors. These are the keys to good health, much more so than more medical care.