mHealth should make old healthcare 'excuses' obsolete

mHealth advocates should be jumping all over a newly released federal report that equates less education with more health problems.

The report, issued on May 16 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (CDC-NCHS), found that people with more education and higher incomes suffer from fewer chronic diseases and live longer. Conversely, the report indicates those who are less educated and poorer have fewer chances to live healthy lifestyles and more often engage in unhealthy habits like smoking, avoiding exercise and eating unhealthy foods.

"It's frustrating to the public health community that this is not changing. We want to eliminate health disparities," said Amy Bernstein, a project director in CDC-NCHS’ division of analysis and epidemiology and a co-author of the report, in a story in U.S. News and World Report.

Added David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine: "The greatest opportunity to enhance medical destiny resides in the realm of lifestyle behaviors – tobacco avoidance, healthful eating, routine physical activity.”

“Financial impediments to a quality education may translate into healthcare costs down the line. The report invites the nation to reflect on the risks of a 'penny wise, pound foolish' approach to education and health alike,” he said.

Which brings us back to mHealth.

Nowadays, everyone has a smartphone or can get one, regardless of education or financial standing. And with a smartphone in hand, access to education – be it a text message from a caregiver, friend or family member, or a link to a healthy-living website – is greatly enhanced. One doesn’t need a high school or college diploma to engage in healthy behaviors, if the tools are there and easily accessible.

We as a nation can’t fall back on the tried-and-true excuses of education and financial standing to explain away our health problems. The promise of mHealth to open up avenues of access and education can and should make those excuses obsolete.

(And while we’re on the subject, we might also point out that rich, well-educated people engage in unhealthy activities as well. They need just as much “educating” as those on the other end of the spectrum.)

As for motivation, Katz’s “penny wise, pound foolish” comment should hit home. Show people that their unhealthy behaviors now will translate to health problems down the road, show them how much that will cost them, and incentivize them to adopt healthier habits. Do this when they’re sitting on the couch on a sunny day or in the supermarket line with a cart full of cigarettes, potato chips and soda.

Educate them when and where they most need it.

Visit the CDC site to see the full report.

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