On Monday, January 25, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative opened its Health Matters Summit with a panel discussion moderated by President Clinton entitled, “The Quest for Longevity and Our Rising Death Rates.” Panelists included: Dr. Reginald Eadie, CEO of Detroit Medical Center; Dr. Ellen Meara, Associate Professor of Health Policy and Clinical Practice at Dartmouth College; Dr. J. Craig Venter, Co-Founder, Executive Chairman, and CEO of the J. Craig Venter Institute; and Dr. Dan Buettner, Author and National Geographic Fellow.
Here are five key findings from the panel about the pursuit of longevity.
1. Friends are influential for both happiness and health.
Research shows that the happiest Americans socialize between six and seven hours a day. And while this sociality is important, who you spend your time with is also incredibly influential for your health. “Social networks matter,” said Dr. Buettner. “If your three best friends are obese or overweight, there’s a 150 percent chance you’ll be overweight. If your friends do drugs, you’re more likely to drugs. If your friends are slothful, you’re more likely to be sedentary.”
2. Community-specific education can promote healthier behaviors.
Unequal access to simple health information – from how to obtain insurance to what defines obesity – can fuel health disparities. To curb this lack of knowledge, Dr. Eadie advocates for “education through explanation,” whereby local leaders assess the community and provide education aligned with what principles are important to that culture. “We’ve got to figure out a way to educate [people] so the right choices can be made,” said Dr. Eadie.
3. Health is not just about medicine.
Over the past several decades, mortality rates for some groups have steadily increased – and now match that of 25 years ago in some populations. These declining life expectancies can be attributed not only to traditional diseases, but to anxiety and mental health. To understand how to improve health, one has to consider these factors. “It’s not just about treating poor mental health, but promoting positive mental health,” said Dr. Meara. “[We should] get at treating these things that underlie the diseases of despair and show up in mortality numbers.”
4. Most diseases are preventable or treatable if they’re detected early.
By the time you experience symptoms for an illness or disease, it may be too late. New technologies like genome sequencing can detect risk factors for diseases before they’ve even started. “Knowledge is power. We need to get it to individuals and to people that can help empower them,” said Dr. Venter. “For $250, you can get your genome that can predict health risks like dementia and heart disease.”
5. Preserving a sense of possibility is critical.
“It is important to inject something positive in the lives of people who believe all their dreams have been taken from them. That, too, is health.” - President Bill Clinton