Health Care or Healthy Care?

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At an American Academy of Pediatrics meeting recently, we had a debate over advertising of “junk food.”  While we agreed that promoting unhealthy foods to children should be discouraged, we couldn’t agree on how to define “junk.” Frosted Flakes might be junk, but what about Shredded Wheat, which may be less sweetened but still highly processed. I jokingly pointed out that my younger son would probably consider most of what I eat “junk” because I didn’t grow it myself.  That got me thinking about what we mean by “healthy” food.

In recognition of this week’s celebration of Earth Day, I’d encourage us to take a more expansive, ecological view of what we mean by health. The World Health Organization defines it as a “positive state of physical, mental, and social well being.”  I’d suggest that if we want to “eat healthy,” we need to think about not only choosing food that doesn’t harm us, but food that actually promotes wellness.  And not only our own personal wellness, but that of our communities and the environment.

One of our hospital’s values is, perhaps unsurprisingly, health. But if we want to aspire to be a true “health care organization,” one with a vision that the children of Wisconsin will be the healthiest in the nation, we need a similarly comprehensive perspective on health care. Care that not only cures illness, but promotes wellness – of individuals, of families, of communities, of the planet.

For those of you who work at Children’s, consider this:

  • How often today did you smile at someone or greet them – patients, visitors, co-workers?
  • Did you waste anything at work today?  Did you open something you didn’t use and throw it in the trash?
  • Did you leave lights on in a room that wasn’t being used?
  • How much of our supplies come from local sources?  How much of our food?
  • Did you consider whether you really needed a paper copy (or 2, or 20) before hitting the print button?

Perhaps we can’t increase the percentage of locally sourced food or other supplies beyond the single digits.  And surely we will always have a few too many lights on for safety.  But everything we do to reduce waste, to support the community, to protect the environment, is a step closer to not just health care, but healthy care.

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