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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 4, 2010

Health relies on personal choice

By Janet Liang

Given the tough economic times for families in Hawai'i, it is no wonder that health care has become one of our biggest concerns. The thought of declining health, the loss of insurance coverage or the rising cost in these times makes us feel especially vulnerable. Rather than feel out of control, individuals can keep health care costs in check and promote a healthy mind and body by choosing to find some new habits.

The organizers of February's Wise Health Consumer Month hope to create more awareness about the connection between lifestyle and the cost of health care. The use of the word "consumer" here is purposeful, because doctors and health care officials recognize that good health care is really all about conscious lifestyle choices that we make as consumers. A lot of what determines good health and subsequently how much we end up paying for it falls in our own hands.

Luckily, we have many choices. Eat more healthy foods. Increase physical activity. Quit smoking. Find outlets for our daily stress. And you don't have to go cold turkey taking a few small steps at a time is the best way to cultivate new and lasting habits. Sign up for a local run/walk with friends. The Kaiser Permanente Great Aloha Run, which also takes place in February, provides a terrific outing and opportunity to exercise, not only for you, but for your entire family. You can even walk, as I will be this year with my children. Try to eat at least one piece of fruit or one serving of vegetables each day. Soon you'll find yourself getting up to the surgeon general's recommendation of five servings a day.

The costs of unwise choices can be devastating. According to the Hawai'i Department of Health, 57 percent of Hawai'i's adults are either overweight or obese, and at risk of becoming diabetic.

Nearly 8 percent of Hawai'i's adult population has been diagnosed with diabetes, up from 6 percent just five years ago. Moreover, adult-onset diabetes, the most common type, can lead to stroke, hypertension, lower-limb amputation, blindness, kidney failure, dental disease, complications during pregnancy and sexual dysfunction. Public health officials say it's no coincidence that adult-onset diabetes is expanding at the same rate as the nation's waistline.

Smoking can also lead to acute and severe illness. Everyone knows about the significant risk of cancer caused by smoking, but not many know that smoking also reduces your HDL, the good cholesterol, and damages your arteries. It also increases your risk for blood clots, which can block your arteries. If you smoke, you're more likely to suffer from a heart attack or stroke.

In addition to the cost to your health, the financial cost of these preventable illnesses can be just as ruinous. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smokers cost the country $96 billion a year in direct healthcare costs, and an additional $97 billion a year in lost productivity to due to the major illnesses caused by smoking.

Finally, we can choose to be more aware of our health and take preventive measures to deter illnesses by scheduling regular doctor visits and checkups and participate in the appropriate annual screenings.

The bottom line: The choice is yours to make. Be a wise health consumer, and live long and prosper.