By Amy Vance, RN, Senior vice president of population health and value based care for Novant Health

 In 1948, the Constitution of World Health Organization defined health as: "A state of complete mental, physical and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

This definition remains intact today. For 70 years, it has not been amended or changed – even as healthcare has transformed tremendously. In those seven decades, crucial vaccinations have saved lives, smallpox has been eradicated, and every major human organ has been successfully transplanted. Not only have we mapped the human genome, but we’re personalizing therapies based on genetic makeup in the fight against cancer. It’s truly incredible how far we’ve come.

However, two sides of a coin exist. Today, we live longer, but more people live in poor health. Lifestyle diseases have climbed to an epidemic status, and the cost of healthcare, along with the state of healthcare insurance, spirals out of control.

In fact, the United States leads the world in healthcare spending – significantly – yet it ranks 37 out of 191 countries in average life expectancy. That’s a problem. If we continue this path, by 2020 our estimated healthcare costs in America will be $4.2 trillion dollars – and of that, $1 trillion will be solely devoted to treating the costs of obesity.

Last year, the state of Tennessee estimated its annual excess health costs of obesity totaled $2.29 billion – more than 6 percent of its entire state budget for obesity issues alone. The epidemic affects other industries as well. The U.S. airlines purchased 350 million more gallons of jet fuel to accommodate the increase in heavier passengers. Even the cost of dying rises for those tipping the scales – a funeral can cost up to $3,000 more than normal.

We know obesity and health habits are problems. We know we’re making poor choices. We know those choices lead to disease and chronic health problems, and we recognize a need for change. But how do we bridge the gap between knowledge and action? We see the big picture and we change the standards.

As a nurse, I believe the healthcare industry is perfectly positioned as trusted standard bearers. We can be a force for good by taking the next move in this battle for health. And the most powerful teaching method in existence is that of leading by example.

The American Nurses Association (ANA) declared 2017 as the Year of the Healthy Nurse. The ANA defines a healthy nurse as someone who focuses on creating and maintaining a balance and synergy of physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and professional well-being.  

An ANA survey of 10,000 nurses revealed an average BMI of 27.6 (between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight). Twenty-five percent of surveyed nurses were diagnosed with hypertension by a healthcare provider. The study also revealed our struggle with eating nutritiously and our lack of exercise. Only half of nurses surveyed met the recommended amount of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.  

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s all about choices and priorities. One hospital employee I know does tai chi on campus every day during his lunch break. Others take advantage of membership discounts at the local gym. Personally, I run every day and participate in marathons. As for nutrition, packing healthy foods and snacks for work is often the difference between choosing foods that fuel versus foods that fatten. At Novant Health, we offer financial incentives for taking care of yourself, on-site gyms, healthy food options in our cafeterias and so much more.

Jim Rohn, author and personal development speaker, said, "Your life does not get better by chance. It gets better by change."

I know that as we make choices to be informed and live well, we will be strengthened – individually and collectively.

We are the authors of our destiny and the captains of our soul. We make the choices that add up to form our lifetime. That’s really what goals are – they’re our choices. If the unexpected, undesirable and unimaginable happen, we want to go through them with the strength, grace and courage of our best selves. We want to go all in. As we do so, others will surely follow.