Maria Ryan, Ph.D., has a vision to improve the overall health of Americans and bend the cost curve within a decade. Ryan, the CEO of Cottage Hospital in New Hampshire, has 30 years of healthcare experience in mid- to large-sized hospitals.
"Right now, we are spending about $3.8 trillion on healthcare," Ryan, a board-certified nurse practitioner, tells Newsmax. "A lot of this money is being spent on illnesses and other conditions that are directly related to lifestyle and modifiable factors."
For example, Ryan points out that medical care for babies in a neonatal intensive care unit accounts for 75% of all dollars spent on newborn care. In 2017, one in 10 babies were born prematurely. If mothers-to-be were educated on proper nutrition and self-care, this number could be drastically reduced.
She adds that current statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that $117 billion annually are spent on diseases and chronic conditions related to a lack of physical activity, and another $147 billion is allocated to those conditions caused by obesity.
"There is plenty of money in healthcare," she says. "I propose that by using a portion of the budgeted monies and putting it into education and prevention, we will have a healthier society and drastically reduce the amount of money that is now being spent on fixing what doesn't have to be broken.
"For the last decade I have been discussing a way to radically change the way our nation views healthcare and improve our overall health and well-being," Ryan says. "We know that poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and stress leads to chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and deficits in brain function.
"I also believe that it may be difficult to change adult behavior when it comes to instilling healthier habits, so I propose to start healthcare reform at a very early age," she says. "We must marry public education with health initiatives."
Among Ryan's suggestions to implement healthcare curricula in schools is to ensure that students receive at least one hour of physical activity daily. Each student, regardless of their ability to pay, would receive breakfast, lunch, and an afternoon snack that consists of whole foods — nothing processed. In addition, each student would be provided with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss to care for their teeth after every meal.
"Poor dental health correlates with poor overall health, therefore we have to incorporate oral hygiene into the school program," she says. Teaching students about optimum nutrition will assist in developing healthy eating habits. Information, such as how to read food labels, would provide them with the tools they need to make better choices.
Ryan would also like to see self-care courses included in schools, and suggests that students would benefit from courses that teach them how to manage stress, take care of finances, and develop domestic skills such as cooking and sewing.
"I would recommend that courses in emotional intelligence and how to debate topics through facts instead of being judgmental or emotional would help young people develop self-confidence and a strong sense of self," she says.
While teachers could be trained to help develop these skills, Ryan says she'd prefer to have specialists in the field of nutrition and social and mental health on site to directly teach and interact with the students. Students would also learn coping skills and relaxation techniques, including yoga and meditation.
Ryan says that Americans cannot compete in the global market in mathematics or science careers. History, mathematics, geography, and language would be elevated to a higher level of learning, so that students are appropriately challenged.
She adds that there is a wide variation in how children are taught and she'd like to see students from socioeconomic-challenged areas receive the same education as those in other neighborhoods. This would include a panel of nonbiased, nonpolitical historians who develop video history lessons to be provided to each school.
The concept that Ryan proposes embraces striving for excellence both academically and in personal healthcare awareness for our young people. It will save taxpayers money, since 90% of the nation's $3.8 trillion in healthcare spending is spent on people with chronic and mental health disorders.
"I estimate that within a decade we will start to see declining healthcare dollars spent," she says. "Initially, as a nation, we may have to invest in our youth to revamp the education system to include preventative health measures. But the payoff, both economically and in the improved health of Americans, is worth the price."
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