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Prevention and Health: Outcome of a Pandemic

What changes do we need to make?

Nurses Disasters Article   posted

Specializes in Health Journalist/Case Manager.

COVID-19 shines a light on chronic conditions as the public health concern that will become the driving force behind a shift in public consciousness and lifestyle habits.

Prevention and Health: Outcome of a Pandemic
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Even though COVID-19 has infected and killed Americans from every age bracket, the most vulnerable population has remained the same. Persons at highest risk for having a poor outcome if infected with COVID-19 are older adults and those with underlying medical conditions.

Chronic conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease, affect more than half of the U.S. population and are key drivers in our nation’s rising healthcare costs. The World Health Organization considers preventing chronic disease “a vital investment”.

The current pandemic shines a light on chronic disease as a serious issue that is worth everyone’s attention.

The Elephant In The Room

Is the 2020 pandemic a wake-up call? Americans are ailing and vulnerable, and many of the chronic illnesses that plague our countrymen are of our own doing.

Americans are less physically active than they were 50 years ago. Currently, only 20% of U.S. jobs require at least moderate physical activity, compared to about 50% just 60 years ago.

The American diet has shifted from the pre-World War I consumption of food that could be grown or hunted, to the present day pre-packaged and heavily processed food products. A study published in 2017 found that nearly 60% of the calories consumed by the typical American came from ultra-processed foods.

A nutritionally-deficient diet and an inactive lifestyle, especially when combined with other harmful lifestyle habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake and the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals, can result in the development of chronic conditions. These are the same chronic conditions that put American people at increased risk for higher morbidity and mortality if they become infected with COVID-19.

Does the U.S. have a high number of COVID-19 fatalities solely due to inadequate masking, social distancing, and shut-downs? Or does the U.S. have a high number of COVID-19 fatalities because 60% of Americans have at least one chronic condition and our healthcare system prioritizes managing chronic illness over preventing chronic illness?

We will start talking about improving the health of the nation.

Creating Change

To be fair, we are trying to change. Farmer’s markets are multiplying, community gardens are birthed alongside farm to table restaurants, and wearable fitness trackers are a fashion statement. It seems America has begun to embrace healthy lifestyle choices, but are we doing enough? These trends are healthy, but are they targeting the right populations? Can low-income families afford fitness trackers or eating out? Do they have easy access to a farmer’s market on the bus line? Do they know how to prepare healthy meals using whole foods?

Instilling healthy lifestyle habits will involve policy changes at the national level. Our media outlets will stop marketing unhealthy products citizens who take their cues from television and online ads.

Our leaders will spend money on advertising to promote farmer’s markets, as well as classes on gardening, cooking, and long-term storage of produce. Television and online ads will focus on healthy olive oils and the appropriate amount to use in sauteeing, instead of targeting children with flashy commercials promoting the sweet taste of processed cereals.

We’ve seen the power of the healthcare industry when lives are at stake. The tobacco industry was forever changed when cigarette commercials were pulled from television and replaced with ads depicting a nicotine addict smoking a cigarette through a tracheostomy and speaking through an artificial voice box after surgery for throat cancer.

Changing a collective mindset is not easy or quick, but American healthcare providers will speak for the people and demand government action to prevent unnecessary deaths.

Healthy Habits Start in Early Childhood

All children will be required to attend classes that focus on preparing meals using only whole, natural foods, as well as classes on natural activities that promote wellness, such as walking and biking.

Home-economic classes will incorporate education on budgeting, purchasing habits and growing produce, and will be required at all grade levels so as to create a sense of community built around healthy habits.

Physical education classes will focus not only on sports but on movement activities that can be accomplished solo or in groups. These activities will include gardening, landscaping, hiking and other outdoor activities.

Children are malleable and act as sponges, soaking up ideas voiced by adults they trust. Our children will become parents, leaders and educators who will pass down wisdom and learned skills to the next generation. What wisdom and skills do we want future generations to learn from our children? What legacy do we strive to leave to our grandchildren?

Nurses Are The Face of Change

The promotion of healthy lifestyle changes will require nurses to take on unique and rewarding roles. Nurses are poised to make a positive difference in people’s lives as community providers, health coaches and case managers.

Community health practices are at a crossroads, as many general practitioners are retiring and there are not enough general practice-trained physicians to replace them. Primary care providers are strategically positioned in communities, ready to embrace the whole person and their support system as a unit, knowing that change happens when it is championed by the unit, not just the part.

Nurse practitioners and nurses will fill the shoes of retiring family practice providers and partner with communities in an effort to turn the tide of unhealthy lifestyle choices that have plagued consumers for too long.

As the most trusted profession in America, nurses hold clout with consumers and will encourage the public to make changes to their daily lifestyle habits.

As members of the community, nurses will direct consumers to community-based organizations that provide education, as well as to peer-led support groups that can provide foundational and progressive support.

Nurses and other healthcare workers will demand their government representatives work for a healthier America by pushing for more funding for small farmers and a ban on the constant marketing of unhealthy products to their constituents.

Will the next generation continue the downhill slide into a pool of chronic conditions that result in sickness, disability and early death? Or will the next generation rise up to be forward-thinking leaders who instill healthy habits in their children and grandchildren, creating communities that support health and prosperous longevity?

We can change. We must change. We will change.

Resources

People Who Are at Increased Risk for Severe Illness

Chronic Diseases in America

Preventing CHRONIC DISEASES a vital investment

Sitting Disease: How a Sedentary Lifestyle Affects Heart Health

The share of ultra-processed foods and the overall nutritional quality of diets in the US: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study

Cindy Blye is a nurse-turned-writer with experience in Newborn Intensive Care, Pediatrics, and Case Management. Her works include pediatric nurse certification review materials, policies and procedures, training materials, nursing blog articles, health and wellness articles, and local business reviews. Cindy has three grown children and lives with her husband in North Carolina where she enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, and cooking.

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Undercat, BSN, MSN, CRNA

Has 41 years experience. Specializes in Retired.

I might have been more optimistic except that yesterday I saw an ad on TV for a national chain that was unveiling it's new chicken nuggets with Coke and fries and a dessert.  It's bad enough to eat the meal but it must be a very toxic environment for the staff. 

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