California, which once basked in the suntanned imagery of youthful vigor and health and fitness recognizes the shine has faded as its population grows older and more sedentary and obese, spawning an unprecedented increase in chronic, preventable disease. Earlier this year, the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown formed a task force with the vision of restoring the Golden State to the healthiest in the nation by 2022. This week, the Let’s Get Healthy California Task Force released a draft report outlining how the state will achieve that vision based on six goals and associated priorities and health indicators.
Brown and his Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Diana Dooley – who also chairs Covered California, the state’s health benefit exchange — are to be commended for initiating and championing this monumental project. When it comes to something as big as improving the health status of the nation’s most populous state, one of the task force’s members, Dave Regan, president of Service Employees International Union – United Healthcare Workers West, clearly understands what’s needed to generate the enormous momentum to counter the sickly, sedentary status quo. Here’s what he said with the release of the draft report as reported by the California HealthCare Foundation’s California Healthline:
There’s lots and lots of good stuff in here. What I’m thinking about is what’s not in here,” said Dave Regan, president of Service Employees International Union. “I keep going back to two things — 80% of what drives health care costs is behavioral, and only 20% of the cost of health care can be affected by what we do today.”
Regan said there needs to be a bigger change, a cultural change, to affect some of the root causes of rising health care costs and poor health of Californians.
“When you look at the goals and indicators in here, we may have a forest-and-trees effect. The behavioral culture is far more influential than all of us nibbling at the margins. … Unless we change the behaviors of millions of people, then we’re just tilting at windmills.”
Regan’s exactly right. And he need look no further than the state workforce – a large portion represented by his union – to see a glaring example of a subsection of the bigger California health problem. These thousands of state employees need to get out of their offices and cubicles and exercise more. Especially as they drive up the cost of providing them health care with one third driven by chronic conditions and raise serious questions as to whether the state will be able to afford to provide them health coverage in retirement.
But they are held prisoner by a rigid, outmoded Industrial Age work culture that requires them to be at the desks from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday. Most could shift their work outside this fixed time frame and location, thanks to today’s information and communications technology — much of it innovated in California — that makes it easily possible for them to do their jobs in a home office or other locations where they can be productive.
This “work shifting” is an essential cultural change that Regan correctly says is needed because it affords people control over their daily schedules and frees up hours each week of wasted commuting time. A 2011 University of Minnesota study found when people are afforded control over when and where they perform their jobs, they got more sleep and exercise. Schedule control is thus a potentially powerful cultural shift because it enables healthy living – a goal identified in the task force report – and makes it easier for people to adopt healthier lifestyle choices.
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