“America’s Health Future” by Sachin Meier, Georgetown University, and Andres Merida, James Madison University, Impact Investing Interns,

On June 4, 2019, the Washington Post hosted a forum titled “America’s Health Future” to discuss the future of healthcare, individual health, nutrition, and technology. Four discussions focused on these subjects from different aspects and fit well together under the central theme of the future of American health. 

The event opened with an interview of Bernard J. Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente by Ceci Connolly, President and CEO of the Alliance of Community Health Plans. Mr. Tyson introduced Kaiser Permanente’s brand new program entitled Thrive Local, which emphasized outpatient and home care, which Kaiser Permanente encourages to mitigate the costs of hospital stays. Additionally, they aim to align patients, caretakers, and doctors’ incentives by moving away from a fee-for-service model, which incentivizes doctors to aim for more frequent visits while pressuring patients, especially low income patients to avoid hospital visits. Thrive Local is an extensive program, with the intention of building solutions that will catch and mitigate the need for hospital visits by increasing health and community living standards. Mr. Tyson specifically mentioned encouraging safe outdoor activities for young people that would build lifelong health habits and community solidarity.

The second topic was Zipcode vs Disease code, hosted by Martine Powers, from the "Post Reports Podcast." Her guests were Dr. Georges C. Benjamin and Dr. Shiriki K. Kumanyika. Dr. Benjamin noted the eight to ten years life expectancy difference due to wealth, and that wealth is a factor in determining education, income, and the environment in which you live in. Ms. Powers asked how the basis of race played a role. Dr. Kumanyika explained that race is further upstream than income and education, and added that race is the basis for directing or depriving the opportunities and resources that lead to poverty. Ms. Powers asked about potential solutions the government could provide via policy. Dr. Benjamin stated that 80% of what you do outside the doctor's office is what makes you healthy. Dr. Kumanyika suggested we look further upstream, and ask why certain policies are as prejudicial as they are. She said we have look to permanent fair solutions that can fix past wrongs. Dr. Benjamin added that doctors should recognize the socioeconomic conditions of their patients.

Dr. Kumayika explained that doctors have an immense amount of social capital that can be used to influence policy makers to meet peoples' needs. On food policy, Dr. Kumayika noted "we have a long way to go to getting everyone on board," and that right now, policies are not working. She explained that food policy is not accommodating to people's health, using the supermarkets cheap sodas as an example. Dr. Benjamin stated that there is a disconnect between health care and social services, even though as a nation we spend an immense amount. He used the example of how we spend more on treatment instead of prevention.

Ms. Powers asked about the effects of climate change on public health, to which Dr. Benjamin replied that climate change is "the most pressing public health problem we have today." He added to the statement by saying that climate change is more dangerous than anything else we face and that the people who have the least amount to do with the problem pay the biggest price.

For the next topic, the host was opinion columnist Jonathan Capehart, and his guest on Health in a connected world was Dr. Deepak Chopra. The first topic discussed was the loneliness epidemic. Dr. Chopra started by saying that social and emotional well being is directly connected to health. He stated that 95% of chronic illness is associated with low grade inflammation, which itself is associated with heart disease, Alzheimer, and cancer, all connected to lifestyle. Chopra added that the way we measure lifestyle is with social emotional connection, and that technology's role in this neutral. "It is up to the individual to determine how they use technology."

Before Chopra's talk, an introductory video implied that the problem with our loneliness epidemic was technology, but Dr. Chopra pointed out that the real problem is the choices people make in using technology. Dr. Chopra believes we are being victimized by technology instead of being in charge of it: "the technology that we have can..create social justice, economic justice, and joy. We live in a society where there is emphasis on performance and there’s a misrepresentation of what success means." Dr. Chopra believes this leads to the modern epidemic of stress, and is directly and indirectly related to every chronic illness and addictive behavior in the culture. He outlined the most important things to raise an individual’s well being: sleep, managing stress, movement, taking breathing breaks, emotional connection, eating right, and a once in a while connecting to nature.

Dr. Chopra emphasized on the importance of scheduling time to use technology and using social media platforms to create positive communities of well being. He recommended taking sabbaticals from technology once a day, and to make conscious choices that don’t waste time, energy or resources. Overall, Dr. Chopra stated that technology is here to stay and that it is a part of human evolution, the question is what are we going to do with it.

The final panel focused on food as a fundamental factor of health. Eric Adjepong, a chef and Co-Owner of Pinch & Plate and Yael Lehmann, President and CEO of Food Trust, discussed issues such as food sourcing, food deserts, and the possible benefits healthy foods can have on a community. Mr. Adjepong was especially knowledgeable about where his food was sourced, and obviously practiced what he preached by working to actively inform local communities about the freshness and nutritional value of different foods. He also touched on a critical issue in the discussion on food and nutrition: dignity. When shopping for food, disadvantaged and low income individuals and families consider more factors than simply cost and nutrition; they take into account the stigma of programs such as SNAP, WIC, and similar food aid programs. Part of improving nutrition for disadvantaged communities involves mitigating or overcoming this stigma.

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