March 10, 2016
Last week, the CATCH team had the honor to attend the tenth annual Michael and Susan Dell Lectureship in Child Health, hosted at the University of Texas at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art. The keynote speaker and lectureship awardee was U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A.
So what does the Surgeon General do, day to day, you may ask? And what did he have to share to a room of about 300 students, academics, mothers and fathers and folks from the public? Well, we want to tell you.
Dr. Murthy has devoted himself for the past two decades to improving health through the lenses of service, clinical care, research, education and entrepreneurship. As of December 15, 2014, he was confirmed as the 19th U.S. Surgeon General and as “America’s Doctor” he is responsible for communicating the best available scientific information to the public regarding ways to improve public health. Upon reflection of his recent visit to Flint, Michigan, a community stricken with lead poisoning in the Flint River, he referenced a conversation with a mother and father who’s child has been affected, by saying: “How can we do better for our children? How can we do better for the nation’s children.” This sentiment runs through his work, commitment and belief that “health is about opportunity, tied to prevention anchored in physical activity and nutrition” among many environment and community factors.
Dr. Murthy also recommended four steps to build a foundation for a healthy future and strengthen the health of our children. His top four recommendations include:
1) Create a culture where health equals happy, where the healthy choice is the desirable choice.
That is, shift health behaviors from pain to pleasure. Expose kids to fruit and vegetables early and prepare dishes with these ingredients to help redefine their relationship with food. In his words, “there’s a ‘branding’ problem with health.”
2) Recognize we can’t change our kids’ health behaviors until we change the environments in which they live.
Our world can’t depend solely on the progress of science, medicine and prevention. He said, “The health community must work in tandem with all departments and build health within all policies. We must change the environment, access to sidewalks and improve road infrastructure, address violence in the schools and reduce access to junk food.” As he noted, when there is not one full-service grocery store in Flint, Michigan, this environment affects the people of our country and communities with access to healthy behaviors and nutrition choices.
3) Health is not just about the body, but about mind & spirit, and we should invest in emotional well-being.
As a nation, we must improve the emotional well-being of the leaders of this country to reach their fullest potential. Detection of mental illness is important and we must acknowledge and address those suffering from stress from isolation, family life situations and discrimination. “You can’t divorce health of body from the mind and spirit,” said Dr. Murthy.
4) Cultivate the ability of kids to give and receive kindness, to treat kindness as a source of strength.
America’s children are our children. We must live and show by example that there is nothing weak about kindness. In fact, it may very well be the biggest source of strength, not weakness. Dr. Murthy urged, “we need a renewed commitment in our country for our children, we must be role models to help children serve each other and our country. This is our charge, and our collective responsibility.”