Cultural Insight to Lowering Healthcare Costs

March 17th, 2014 | By Marjie No Comments

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In some ways, the American culture is known for promoting a fast-paced and stressful environment. It is uncommon for working individuals in the U.S. to have hours available for a relaxing jog during lunch, or to stretch muscles that have fallen asleep while sitting at a desk all day.

The daily grind that the American population endures on a daily basis does harm to the overall health of our country. Healthcare costs continue to rise along with healthcare issues. According to Business Insider magazine, healthcare business costs have been rising nine to 12 percent annually since 2008. This increase amounts to $10,000 per employee per year. What can the American population do on its own to reduce healthcare costs? The answer is not simple, but studying other cultures who have fewer healthcare issues than we do can help tremendously.

You might wonder, What do other cultures do that allows them to have lower healthcare costs? In many instances, they promote “preventative healthcare.” The combination of a healthier lifestyle and preventative care plays a key role in lowering the cost of healthcare in the U.S. as well, although it is not a popular concept for Americans just yet. With education and motivation, though, it may soon become more common.

“Forty percent of the Netherlands population travels by bike; those who drive a car are in the minority.”
-  Adrian Bauman, professor of public health at The University of Sydney in Australia

Preventative healthcare is a sound concept: Take measures to prevent disease, injury, or poor health, rather than offering treatment and/or medication after someone is sick or hurt. It works well at the population level, which is what makes it unique and most effective. Types of preventative care range greatly, but some examples include regular stretching and walking, measuring blood pressure and cholesterol regularly, screening for diseases, etc. The majority of diseases and causes of death amongst the American population are avoidable; preventative measures would make a difference.

Dr. David Heber, professor of medicine at UCLA says, “Having people take better care of themselves is one of the best ways of reducing the costs of healthcare coverage.” Comparing Asian and American cultures in this regard is eye-opening. In general, the Asian lifestyle and diet differ from the U.S.’s, as does its mindset. Taking part in preventative care is common in many Asian countries because it is ingrained in their culture that living healthful lives will allow them to live longer. For instance, the average life expectancy in Japan is 86 for women and 79 for men, some of the longest-lived citizens in the world. In Japan, it is typical to walk instead of drive, eat fresh food instead of processed, and take time each day to reflect upon themselves.

The Netherlands, Italy, Iceland, and Sweden also rank among the healthiest cultures in the world. The population of all these countries maintain overall good health and have few serious healthcare issues. Adrian Bauman, professor of public health at The University of Sydney in Australia, says, “Forty percent of the Netherlands population travels by bike; those who drive a car are in the minority.”

Many, perhaps even most, major U.S. cities are not bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly for cross-city trips, but biking or walking to the nearby grocery store is a great way to introduce this lifestyle. Such exercise could account for a large percentage of your recommended daily amount of exercise. The average 150-pound adult burns about 225 calories per 45 minutes of walking, and the amount of calories burned increases the faster you walk.

Becoming a healthier nation should also promote lower healthcare costs in the U.S. and elsewhere. While The Netherlands ranks in the top six for having one of the most affordable healthcare systems, they also have one of the healthiest populations in the world with the lowest Body Mass Index.

Another country that ranks in the top ten healthiest places is Italy. The typical Italian diet of pasta, gelato, and pizza may not sound like a healthy one, but when made in its homeland it becomes one of the healthiest diets in the world. High consumption of olive oil, fish, legumes, and unprocessed carbohydrates make for a high fiber diet with plenty of protein. The Italian culture benefits from this type of diet by reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

The U.S. population, in contrast, consumes large amounts of processed foods, specifically carbohydrates. These unhealthy and preservative-heavy foods harm our health and increase our risk of disease. Consuming home-cooked meals made with healthy oils, fresh vegetables, and unprocessed proteins provides enormous health benefits. And the healthier our diet is as a nation, the fewer doctor visits we will have to make, which helps reduce healthcare costs, helps get rid of common illnesses, and allows us to develop strong immune systems.

Perhaps the best model for a healthy lifestyle is that of Iceland, which is continuously ranked as one of the healthiest countries in the world, with long life expectancy and low infant mortality rates. The typical Icelander’s diet is simple, consisting primarily of lean lamb and cod, high quality olive oils, fresh produce with minimal pesticide use, and artisanal dairy used mainly in their yogurts. Icelanders swear by the health benefits of natural hot springs because they offer relaxation and family time. In the winter months, Iceland experiences very little sunshine, so the locals often hit the gym to get in their daily exercise. They make a daily routine out of visiting the gym, which helps them stay fit during the cold winter months and offers an uplifting social environment.

The lifestyle in Iceland represents a perfect example of a healthy way to live. The U.S. does not have all that Iceland has to offer, but there are certain things we can do to model some of their behaviors. Eating organic fruits and vegetables or fresh produce grown in your backyard allows for a low-pesticide diet, and eating dairy products low in sugar and high in natural protein is also beneficial. Finding a way to relax in a comfortable environment is just as important as maintaining a healthy diet. Putting aside at least 15 minutes of ‘me time’ has significant benefits for the mind and body. These 15 minutes can consist of anything as long as they promote relaxation. Sitting in a hot tub, reading a book in a quiet place, or just listening to music are some ways to incorporate reflection time during your day.

As a whole, we Americans have a challenge ahead of us if we want to lower our healthcare costs by increasing our overall health. We will have to maintain an exercise regimen, eat healthfully, and take time to enjoy life. Those three components are clearly what stimulate a healthy population. We can learn a lot from our global neighbors, using them as role models and then making some of their healthy habits our own in order to benefit us and, in the end, reduce our healthcare costs.

Simple Steps to a Healthier You:

  • Cook at home more often than eating out
  • Ride a bike or walk to the local store instead of driving
  • Allow yourself to have 15 minutes of “me time” daily
  • Check blood pressure and cholesterol regularly
  • Eat foods high in fiber
  • Take a walk after dinner with family
  • Avoid fast food restaurants
  • Stretch your arms and back during lunch break
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night
  • Go to the gym with a friend
  • Get screened regularly for things like breast cancer, melanoma, etc.
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