What is health? This may sound like a fairly obvious question, but it has actually been the subject of vigorous debate for thousands of years.
A dictionary would tell you that health is the absence of illness or injury, and indeed that was the prevailing view for a long time. However, in 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The idea that health was a multi-faceted state and that it means more than just the absence of disease, was revolutionary.
The meaning of health continues to evolve, perhaps in part because our experience of what health is has also changed with time. In the past hundred years, there has been a massive shift in the primary causes of death in the industrialized world. In 1900, the three leading causes of mortality were pneumonia, tuberculosis, and diarrhea/enteritis, which caused one-third of all deaths. Now, chronic degenerative diseases, like heart disease and cancer, are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in industrialized societies, and they exert a massive economic toll, as well as a terrible cost to well-being later in life.
Part of this shift, of course, is because people are living much longer than before, and therefore are reaching the ages when these conditions tend to emerge. In other words, we are, in a sense, victims of our own remarkable success. But we wind up paying a terrible price, in years of protracted poor health and compromised quality of life. Does it have to be this way?
Maybe not. Most of these chronic conditions are, at least in part, the product of a constellation of modifiable risk factors. This means that these diseases should be preventable, at least to a degree. And indeed, it has been estimated that around 80% of chronic conditions could be avoided through the adoption of simple and widely recognized lifestyle changes, like healthy dietary principles, regular physical activity, and maintaining a healthy body mass.
We know what we need to do. So why isn’t this knowledge paying off?
Sickcare + Selfcare
Our healthcare system was originally designed to handle acute problems, like infectious disease and trauma, which were the main killers in our society many years ago. And it is very good at that. Certainly, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all been reminded of how incredibly important that still is for all of us. Anyone who has had an injury or illness can appreciate the marvels of modern medicine. We are frankly quite lucky to live in this period in history.
However, it is poorly equipped to address the challenge of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle. Indeed, what we refer to as healthcare could perhaps be more accurately characterized as “sickcare.”
The fundamental problem is that eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, etc. require consistent practice. You can’t get a doctor to do it for you. You have to do it yourself, and you have to do it every day. Consequently, we need a new branch of healthcare to help fill this gap. For a complete healthcare system, we need a new branch of medicine – selfcare – alongside our traditional sickcare model.
This is clearly a subject that is near and dear to our hearts, which is why Dan was so pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this new paradigm with Bambi Francisco Roizen. Bambi is a veteran editor, columnist, and correspondent, covering the technology and Internet industries for 15 years. She is also the co-founder and CEO of Vator, one of the largest social networks dedicated to high-tech entrepreneurs and investors.
In this interview on the VatorNews Podcast, Dan talks about the evolution of our approach to health, other dimensions of health like mental health and spirituality, and about the possibility of an exciting new future where lifestyle training could become the norm. In this way, we might truly realize the definition of health described by the WHO seventy years ago.
To listen, you can either head on over to vator.tv, or listen on SoundCloud below. Check it out!