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Why is our health getting worse—and why are our leaders not reversing the trends?

The consensus diagnosis sounds simple: we are not physically active enough, and our nutrition is not healthy enough, and we have too much toxic uncontrolled stress, for us to lead healthy lives.

We just need to “fix” those root causes. But, that’s easier said than solved.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of doctors and nurses strongly encourage their hundreds of millions of patients to become more active and eat healthier, and to relax and de-stress. Yet in the end, it’s all just talk: people’s behavior rarely changes, and for the vast majority their habits & health do not improve later in life.

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From Disease Management → Active Healthy People

The vast majority of the health system has “thrown in the towel” on helping people develop “healthier lifestyles.” Instead, health care agencies, plans and providers assume that most people will continue to have unhealthy habits and chronic conditions for their entire lives. As a result, the health sector focuses predominantly on controlling the impact of those lifelong unhealthy conditions—a process known as “disease management”.

Fortunately, we can at a minimum postpone the on-set and reduces the severity of chronic health conditions for many years. Instead of more clinical visits, we need more time in K-12 schools to increase activity, healthy nutrition, and social-emotional wellness.

We used to have that time. What happened?

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Seat-Time at School + Screen-Time at Home = Unhealthy, Underachieving Children

Our leaders and laws unintentionally sent school boards, superintendents & principals the wrong signals. In recent decades, states – cheered on by the federal government – started “grading” schools based almost exclusively on their reading, writing and math test scores.

Physical Activity Diagram

So schools slashed PE & recess (& arts ed), and increased “seat-time” for the tested subjects. Meanwhile, screen-time took up more and more time outside school.

Ironically, and tragically – it turns out that all that extra “seat-time” at school actually hurts test scores—and also killed many students’ motivation & brain energy.

That makes common sense to parents and teachers, who know how hard school would have been for them with little or no recess or “gym”.

Recess dialogue

That common sense is now backed up by decades of MRIs and other research evidence.

Brain scans

Of course, parents would never have assented to endangering their children’s health—but they were never asked.  Governments never bothered to figure out what the consequences would be of less recess and often no PE—and they were in denial that their policies would harm kids more than help them. 

In fact, governments and school leaders never even did the research—and then never listened to the evidence when it came out—to anticipate how badly such narrow school accountability would backfire. 

And health plans and providers did not warn governments of the potential for epidemic chronic disease from sedentary schools. 

Any parent will tell you:  Nothing else that a school can do, including improving test scores &—yes, even improving job & wage prospects—can make up for my child developing diabetes, heart disease or cancer in their 20’s, 30’s or 40’s.

And yet, until our intervention-they didn’t change.

Worse Health for Better Test Scores?
No-one would take that “deal” – even if it had worked.

Physically AND Mentally Healthier

The percentage of teens who have seriously considered suicide increased from under 14% to almost 19% from 2009-2019—and this worsened during the pandemic. Much more needs to be done on an on-going basis through schools—not just with one-time pandemic federal funds—to improve our kids’ mental health.

Our bodies and minds are integrally connected: physical activity reduces ADHD, anxiety and depression for many children and adults. And much more can be done through social-emotional learning in schools to improve children’s mental health — “mindfulness” programs alone can reduce depression for almost 10% of affected students.

Percentage of students with condition graphic

Preventing Family Financial Illness

American families are spending nearly $4 trillion per year—almost $12,000 per American—on health care—twice as much as 1980. This is more than twice per capita what other countries spend.  Now, consider that the median per capita household income is about $34,000 per American.

Child in hospital bed

And Governments Too

Governments are under pressure, too.  Health care is the largest component of federal spending, now even exceeding Social Security, thanks to: Medicaid (operating under AHCCCS, Medi-Cal, & many other state-specific names), Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, the VA, government employees, and IRS employer tax breaks, etc. (Yes, even employer health spending is heavily funded by the government/taxpayers, through tax deductions.)  And health care is the 2nd largest component of state government spending

In other words, current and (thanks to federal deficits & debt) future taxpayers—our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—will end up paying what we can’t and won’t pay. 

We care… but how much do we really care? Let’s prove it!

Ever-increasing federal health care spending, including major recent health insurance subsidies (“Obamacare”) —plus massive tax cuts every 15 or so years to increase working- and middle-class families’ vanishing disposable income, to help them pay for higher health care costs—have been essential for keeping this Titanic afloat. But they also hide the pain, and have helped our political system and society avoid dealing with the issue.

However, the number of musical chairs on the deck has fallen too low. How do we keep from sinking?

Sinking ship

Systemic, Systematic, School-Based Solutions

As part of our core mission, vision and values, our approaches will continue to be: accountable, performance-based, highly-effective, affordable-for-all, super-scalable, move-the-needle-systemic, long-term, and sustainably self-funding—with a high, rapid, proven payback/ROI.

We define “health” in a whole-child, whole-person context—including physical, social-emotional and mental health (and eventually financial, civic, creative, and other types of health in the broadest sense).  None of these are being adequately developed and assessed at present in any state’s K-12 schools.

Our initial focus is on dramatically expanding & improving quality K-12 physical and health education, physical activity, healthy nutrition, & helping students deal with toxic stress—as an essential foundation for lifelong health.

Peer-led physical activity

While we start in K-12 schools, we look at health in its broader family, community, and socioeconomic context—and over the entire lifespan. And we realize that healthy habits begun early in life—as children, must then be reinforced by other public policies and private practices–as adults. This ensures that the healthy behavior begun in schools does not fade out and revert to unhealthy social norms in the future.

elements of a healthy community - graphic