Athleticism as the driving engine of positive health outcomes

She turns slightly as she faces the mirror, flexing her shoulder muscles, their underlying contours sharply defined on her now lean, lithe, muscular body. A hint of a smile crosses her face, she is pleased with what she sees. The work outs have been hard, but she can see the progress.

I look at her and see an athlete. The mirrors in the fitness center might have been placed there to ensure one is executing a lift with proper form, but the athletes therein know that the mirrors are there for posing. An athlete is concerned about their body, their appearance. They come to view their body as something that has to be cared for physically. The athlete learns from their performance, their sense of energy, that the type of fuel which goes into the machine matters. The athlete comes to care about nutrition. Their joy in their body form leads from working out to eating right which leads to improved health outcomes.

Marlin working out
Marlin working out

Micronesia is wracked by non-communicable diseases. Here in the FSM the 30% rate of diabetes in the adult population, the 80% to 90% of the population with body mass index over 25, is particularly devastating. Lives cut short, lives lived with horribly reduced quality of life. Kidney failure, dialysis, amputations, and death. As the Pacific Island Health Officers Association declared, this is the equivalent a natural disaster, a very real health emergency.

Yet the approach to solutions is typically health, nutrition, and maybe then fitness in that order. The largest health insurer in the nation pours money into health – treating the disease. As an insurance entity the insurer seems unable to grapple with the inevitability of the future collapse of a health insurance model that focuses on treating disease instead of preventing disease. There are too many with disease to be supported by the few who are healthy.

The insurer currently is responding to the crisis by raising rates, but eventually the rates rise to levels that the healthy are no longer will to pay. At some point the healthy members opt out, take the risk of being uninsured and paying their own way medically, and the company becomes fiscally insolvent. The health insurer disappears in sea of red ink.

Other organizations focus on nutrition and eating right. Some entities have been engaged in nutrition education for decades out here. Decades during which the national diabetes health profile has gotten worse, not better. These programs sound good, look good on paper, might even feel good, and ultimately have no substantive impact. Behaviors are not changed.

Shanalin working out
Shanalin working out

Only the athlete makes long term behavioral changes in their diet and moves on to positive health outcomes. First comes fitness, then comes dietary choice changes, and the result is health. The current approach focuses money on health, then diet, and a few crumbs are tossed to fitness and sport. Even the Compact funding is primarily in education (K-12) and health – with health being primary, secondary, and tertiary treatment-of-disease health care. Compact health sector funding might fund a hospital but never a fitness center nor a gym nor a track.

Shot on goal by Tristan
Shot on goal by Tristan

Yet only only money poured into fitness, exercise, and sport will make any long term lasting difference. Only fitness can save lives and improve the quality of life in the long haul.

What would a national plan look like that put fitness and physical exercise first? Significant, if not massive, increases in funding sport-supporting facilities, sports councils, active support for entities such as SHIP-HOOPS sports programs, and the FSM NOC. Funding at the state and national level for indoor fitness centers in each state, maintenance of existing facilities such as tracks, tennis courts, gymnasiums, and pools. An insurance program that incorporates incentives for a physically active life style. Partnerships between insurers such as MiCare, fitness centers, and facilities owners/operators. For example, the existence and continued operation of a swimming pool or publicly accessible track should be viewed as a benefit to an insurer such as MiCare; lack of maintenance of that facility should be seen as a loss.

Improved health care and health care facilities that focus on treatment will not reduce the disease burden. Increased nutrition education will not lead to changes in dietary choices that are contributing to the disease burden. Increased athleticism will lead to individuals making healthier dietary choices as they choose to value their physique. The result will be improved future health profiles.


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