Island bleeding itself to death, says expert
Bermuda is “bleeding itself to death” from the cost of treating chronic diseases.
The warning came from Hans Diehl, a US expert in preventive medicine and founder of a programme designed to cut the impact of preventable diseases.
Dr Diehl, who started the Complete Health Improvement Programme, said education, motivation and inspiration, along with strong public health policies are needed to help to tackle the chronic disease problem in Bermuda.
He added: “We’re in danger of losing a geographic jewel of beauty in that the westernisation and the excesses of westernisation are creating an excess in western diseases.
“We’re talking about heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and arthritis — these are all largely self-made, self-promoted diseases.”
Dr Diehl said these diseases did not exist “to any extent” 100 years ago in America and were a result of modern lifestyle factors including diet, lack of exercise, smoking, stress levels and the environment.
He added: “We need to begin to realise that there is an epidemiological gradient that says the more you imbibe, the more you move western products into your society, these processed foods and the high cholesterol foods and then you have less exercise and smoking, the more you have to be concerned about these western diseases.”
Bermuda is among the countries with the highest healthcare expenditure and Dr Diehl said he was shocked by the island’s figures.
The clinical professor of preventive medicine at Loma Linda University School of Medicine in California, warned: “You are bleeding yourself to death as a society with the healthcare costs and these are healthcare costs related to diseases, because in western society, we basically don’t have a healthcare system, we have a disease-care system.”
He said it was usual to wait until people got sick before a bid to solve the problem using hi-tech approaches was made.
Dr Diehl highlighted the results of the 2014 Steps to a Well Bermuda survey, which showed that 42 per cent of those questioned had three or more risk factors for non-communicable diseases, 75 per cent were overweight or obese, and 33 per cent reported high blood pressure.
He said he realised during his doctoral studies that the answer to “modern killer diseases” was not more surgery or medication but an attack on root causes.
Dr Diehl added that new ideas in lifestyle medicine meant type 2 diabetes could be reversed and a large percentage of people with the disease could stop taking medicine if they made simple lifestyle changes like changing to a basic diet and taking daily exercise.
He said: “These are the kind of things that would dramatically change the financial topography that is related and driven by medical expenses.”
And he added: “We need to educate, inspire and motivate people and then have the back-up of the Government to have wise policies that fit into that country and that culture.”
Dr Diehl pointed to tougher legislation and taxes on tobacco as an example of social legislation that has worked elsewhere.
And he said higher taxes on foods that contribute to high rates of disease have also been an effective strategy.
But Dr Diehl said other agencies also needed to get involved and that churches, insurance companies and the medical profession could all help.
He added: “These are all very difficult things to do but we need to make a beginning and it will take a commitment by a government that recognises this situation you are in right now is no longer sustainable.” The author and motivational speaker will take part in a series of events in Bermuda this week based on the theme “Healthy By Choice Not Chance”.
The events were organised by nurse and radio personality Beverley Howell, who has facilitated the Chip programme, which aims to reduce disease risk factors through the adoption of better health habits and appropriate lifestyle modifications, in Bermuda for ten years.
The Choose Life and Health Symposium at the Sweeting Ball Hall in the Bermuda Industrial Union on Friday will kick-start the series. The series will end with a banquet and commencement of this year’s graduates of the Bright Temple AME Church Community Chip programme at the Fairmont Southampton on November 13 from 5.30pm.
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