While individual behavior change strategies (e.g., establishing exercise regimens, nutritional ounseling, etc.) can be effective, implementing government policies that facilitate behavior change and nudge citizens toward healthier lifestyles is a key component toward improving population health.
Both individual and community change should happen in tandem to really impact health outcomes and the overall wellness of the community.
A report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) this week states that both the government and medical community are neglecting high blood pressure– a disease afflicting a third of all Americans and the second leading cause of death in the U.S. Hypertension is highly related to poor diet, lack of exercise and heavy weight. The IOM calls for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with both the public and private sector to make it easier for individuals to engage in healthier lifestyles and, in turn, lower or prevent high blood pressure.
I’m interested in seeing the longer-term results of an community experiment described by Harvard’s Walter Willett along with Anne Underwood in the Feb 15 issue of Newsweek article, “Crimes of the Heart.” The city of Albert Lea, MN has institued a variety of enviormental changes to make the residents healthier. They built recreational paths, improved restaurant menus and school food policies, for example. So far the residents have improved their average weight, increased average life expectancy and lowered health care claims. If this continues to work for the city of Albert Lea, such policies may be replicated in communities across the U.S.