April 12, 2013

U.S. surgeon general speaks about preventative medicine to Pritzker

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin fielded questions about the National Prevention Strategy, a 2011 initiative that stresses preventative health care measures to promote healthy living and minimize health care costs, at the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine yesterday evening.

Benjamin told the audience of Pritzker students and faculty the story of her past working as a primary care physician in a rural health clinic in Alabama, and how she interacted with patients who could not afford their medication or who could not read. She discovered that her “prescription pad was not enough,” which informed her desire “to address the social determinants of health care, such as poverty,” she said.

The death rate is 2.5 times higher for people with less than 12 years of education, she said. However, she pointed out that poverty levels have a greater impact on health than smoking and education levels.

Benjamin described the campaigns launched by the National Prevention Council, which comprises 17 different federal departments. Together, the campaigns form the National Prevention Strategy. One campaign Benjamin discussed is the Surgeon General’s “Every Body Walk!” campaign, an initiative to promote walking as a form of exercise. Other campaigns include a platform to develop online family health records created in tandem with the National Institutes of Health and Microsoft, as well as a partnership with Facebook to enable people to report Facebook friends who demonstrate suicidal tendencies to professionals who can potentially help them.

Benjamin also said that though rates of smoking have decreased in recent years, there has been an increase in smoking for people between the ages of 18 and 26. She emphasized the importance of preventing young people from picking up smoking and played one of her recently created public service announcements warning against the dangers of smoking.

“If we follow the recommendations of the National Prevention Strategy, we can eliminate or at least significantly reduce the five leading causes of death,” she said.

Benjamin stressed that implementing the National Prevention Strategy requires a “community-based” effort where people are educated about healthy living and the risks associated with unhealthy behaviors.

“Healthy choices need to be affordable choices as well as easy choices,” she said. “We need to make it easier for [people to get information], so they can make those choices for themselves.”