There’s something missing from our current debate about national health care. Too few are talking about actual health. We lament the red tape, the gaps in insurance coverage and the costs that seem to escalate daily. But we often forget the central point: Our own individual health and well being. How can Americans be healthier, feel better and live longer?

I’ve often thought about this as a public official, a state lawmaker, a county supervisor and as an average guy who wants to stay healthy for as long as possible. And there are clear national implications as well. If each of us tried a little harder to be healthier, maybe we wouldn’t have to spend 18 cents of every dollar on doctors, hospitals, insurance and drugs — money that we all know we could put to good use elsewhere.

In fact, health care is one issue in which each of us can play a crucial role — just by the small, personal choices we make in our everyday lives.

Consider: The five leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease, cancer, respiratory diseases, strokes and accidents. Each of these is partly related to lifestyle.

Scientific evidence linking disease and bad health habits is established and growing. Some of the findings can surprise: For example, there seems to be a connection between oral hygiene and heart disease. Inflamed gums can carry bacteria from your mouth into the bloodstream where they attach to the arteries. Turns out, flossing every day isn’t just good for your teeth. It’s good for your heart.

Take a moment and ask yourself some simple questions:

Do you smoke? Do you consume too many needless calories? Do you drink alcohol to excess? Drive too fast or while distracted? Do you get enough daily exercise? Do you drink enough water? Are you coping well with stress in your life?

The good news is that becoming healthier is not difficult. It’s as simple as driving closer to the posted speed limit and never while texting. It’s as easy as eating more fruits and vegetables. As drinking water, not sodas. As getting up, walking around, and taking deep breaths every 20 to 30 minutes.

Prevention is the best approach to many of our social ills. In the case of health, it’s the most effective way to restrain the cycle of escalating costs and to reduce the stress on the current medical system. Instead of building more hospital beds, let’s figure out how to create fewer patients.

At Maricopa County, we have shaped smart health habits into public policy. A big part of our goal is to reduce endless increases in health insurance. The county offers an in-house pharmacy and clinic, annual biometric screenings, premium reductions for non-smokers, a fitness center and yoga classes.

The health care problems we face as a society are quite real and large. They have been documented in imposing stacks of detailed reports, debated in countless legislative hearings and talk shows. Meanwhile, the single most important element of the solution is staring at us in the mirror.


• Fulton Brock is a resident of Chandler and represents District 1 on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

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