Between the Lines: We can do better for the health of it

There's a new study out with conclusions that have become all too familiar: We residents of the Midwest could be healthier.

We'll talk more about that in a bit. But first, in the interest of full disclosure, a few things need to be mentioned.

The above conclusion is part of a study entitled "A Fragile Nation in Poor Health," released this week by TeleVox Software. It landed in my e-mail over the weekend.

I've never heard of TeleVox Software. After a bit of research, I've learned it is an Alabama-based company that markets communications services to dentists, physicians, utility companies, hospitals and small-business owners.

I have no idea what South Dakota health officials think of TeleVox, or its study. Officials at Health Literacy Missouri, however, have concluded that some of the study's findings shouldn't be discounted simply because it was commissioned by a company that sells communication software intended for the health industry.

"Though the TeleVox Health World Report may be criticized for being a marketing tool to support the company's software products, few would argue with the survey's actual findings," said Michelle Roberts, director of communications at Health Literacy Missouri, in a story published this week by the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune.

Among the study highlights:

  • Sixty-two percent of Midwesterners don't feel their overall personal health is in good shape.
  •  The Midwestern diet is filled with high-fat, high-calorie comfort foods and, as a result, the Midwest has extremely high rates of obesity.
  • Roughly four out of five Midwesterners admit they don't follow treatment plans exactly as prescribed, and more than one-third said they could better follow those plans with encouragement from their doctors between visits.

Geni Alexander, public information officer for the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services, said, "We would be very careful basing" programs "strictly off that study" because it makes the case for technology that TeleVox sells.

But local health officials are not dismissing the finding that Midwesterners are overweight or that the study points to a need for greater health literacy.

The health literacy movement, aimed at making health information and interaction with physicians and health providers more understandable, is a main component of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act – generally known as the health care reform act.

In a somewhat bizarre coincidence, just as TeleVox released its report, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide the constitutionality of the health care reform law.

Oral arguments are likely to be held in late February or March, with a ruling by June, assuring the blockbuster issue will become a hot-button political debate in a presidential election year.

The high court agreed to hear two major questions: whether the law's key provision is unconstitutional, and if so, whether the entire law, with its 450 sections, must be scrapped.

I'm going to go out on a limb and conclude that TeleVox likely doesn't want to see the law repealed. It appears that much of the company's future business model is based on communication requirements between physicians and patients that seemingly are written into the legislation.

TeleVox's study, however, does point out some disturbing trends that are easily backed up by data available from the South Dakota Department of Health. We are known for our grit, determination and hard work (much of it physical) here on the Great Plains, leading one to easily believe we all should be the picture of good health in South Dakota.

We aren't. Our obesity rate is greater than the national average. And many of the poor diet, exercise and health habits that are becoming prevalent among a great number of South Dakota adults are being adopted by our younger generation.

We realize it's the holiday season – hardly the right time to try to talk about obesity and dieting. We know that you'll be sitting down to a big Thanksgiving meal in less than a week.

The customary launch of a pre-Christmas holiday baking blitz is likely just around the corner in your household, too.

There's always New Year's Day — the perfect time to resolve to do a bit better in all aspects of our lives.

It turns out that a study commissioned by a company hoping to sell software to health professionals has a bit of value to the general population. The study serves as a reminder, at least, that we could do better when it comes to taking care of ourselves and our families.

The same study that reveals our health shortcomings, and legislation from Washington, for that matter, are not a panacea, however. We're proud of our individualism here in the Midwest.

It turns out that this trait will best serve those of us who truly wish to improve our health.

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