A Healthier Change

2016breidbartBy Dr. Scott Breidbart, Chief Clinical Officer, EmblemHealth 

Currently, there is an industrywide focus on the personalization of health care. Studies suggest that dietary advice should differ from person to person, that specific genetic tests should be performed to determine personal risks for diseases, and that therapies should be individualized based on genetic and other factors. These notions speak to a future health care model.

While the movement to personalization may lead to better prevention and treatment strategies, there too needs to be a general population shift to healthier lifestyles. A person with an unhealthy lifestyle may have a low genetic risk for cancer or heart disease, but genetic factors will only reduce the risk for cancer or heart disease, not prevent those diseases. In addition, we influence each other. An overweight non-exercising person may have a low genetic risk for heart disease, but his behavior affects his friends and family who may not be so genetically blessed.

To initiate the shift towards overall healthier living, there are a few general health rules to follow — especially as we enter into an era of more advanced medical testing, diagnostics and personal treatment decisions.

For example, everyone should wear sunscreen or avoid excess sun exposure to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. We all need to focus efforts towards eating a balanced and healthy diet — less meat and sugar and more vegetables. For most of us, more exercise and sleep is needed. Everyone should get the recommended vaccines, and should either stop smoking or refrain from starting. These are standard pieces of medical advice that have not changed and will lead to better health.

However, change is tough, and those who enter transition phases towards healthier living must be supported. The best way to avoid something is to avoid the temptation altogether. Those who wish to shift behavior must identify those temptations to avoid unhealthy situations. This is where a buddy system or support group helps tremendously. Ultimately, if we can make unhealthy behaviors inconvenient and healthy behaviors convenient, we are likely to see improved public health.

While the new U.S. Dietary Guidelines focus on three major themes to help Americans make decisions about healthy eating, they also support overall healthy behavior — Eat For Health and For the Long Run, Start With Small Changes and Support Healthy Choices for Everyone.

By making small impactful steps towards a healthier lifestyle, we can all become healthier. With luck, we’ll remain healthy and will be able to take advantage of the upcoming scientific advancements that are moving us to more personalized health recommendations.