U.S. Surgeon General Shares Vision for Achieving a Healthier Nation

Department of Population Health Hosts ‘Town Hall’ with Dr. Vivek Murthy

Tuesday, March 15 2016

From left, Dr. Marc Gourevitch, chair of the Department of Population Health, Dr. Vivek Murthy, Dr. Cheryl Healton, dean of the NYU College of Global Public Health, and Dr. Dave Chokshi, an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health

“How do we come together to create better health for everyone? Not just for people who are living in the right neighborhoods, not just for the privileged alone, but everyone?” asked U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, at a Town Hall meeting at NYU Langone on February 12. This was one of the central questions Dr. Murthy addressed during the event, which was sponsored by the Department of Population Health, and co-sponsored by the NYU College of Global Public Health and NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

As the 19th surgeon general, America’s “first doctor,” Dr. Murthy spent his initial year in office on a listening tour, hearing firsthand from families around the country about the challenges they face. For too many people, he said, striving for a state of better health is still not perceived as enjoyable—forcing oneself to give up certain foods, or head to the gym three times a week. “We must figure out together how to create a culture where healthy is equated with happiness, with what people want,” he said. “We need to shift the pursuit of health from a source of pain, to a source of power, to a source of pleasure. The big question is, how do we do that?”

He shared four specific steps that he believes are the keys to a healthier life for all Americans, and pointed to initiatives that are examples of success.

1. Eating More Fruits and Vegetables. The Healthy Chefs program in Roanoke, Virginia, enlists culinary professionals to work with school kids to prepare meals using fresh, healthy ingredients. Once kids are exposed to these foods, their preferences shift away from “the big three”—pizza, hot dogs, and mac and cheese. Participants ask their parents to make healthier foods at home, which the schools support by providing recipes and sourcing fresh produce.

2. Environment Matters. The second step is working with local governments to push for changes that encourage health. Dr. Murthy cited his own hometown, near Miami, Florida, where new sidewalks, better lighting, and vacant lots being converted into parks were responsible for a significant increase in physical activity. “Some of the most important drivers of health disparities in our country can be found right there in the environment . . . and when we change it, we can have a profound impact on health,” said Dr. Murthy.

A packed room for the Department of Population Health’s town hall with Dr. Vivek Murthy

3. The Mind and the Spirit as Keys to Health. One of the issues that most struck Dr. Murthy on his tour was the prevalence of depression and stress, the latter stemming from isolation, family problems, economic hardship, violence, and discrimination. In his own clinical practice at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he had often observed that finding the perfect dose for a patient’s blood pressure medication was fruitless if she was depressed, as she would be less likely to follow up and take her medication as directed.

But, Dr. Murthy said, “Emotional well-being is achievable. It is something that can be cultivated if we are willing to invest in it.” He described a program in Chicago called Becoming a Man, as a low cost intervention that teaches young, at-risk men about self-determination, conflict resolution, and integrity, and has led to a 44 percent reduction in violence among participants.

4. Celebrating That We Live in an Extraordinary Nation. Lastly, he pointed to our nation’s strengths—our cultural diversity, work ethic, and the opportunities available here. “Our headlines and airwaves are so often filled with voices that tell us everything that is wrong with America,” he said. “We must acknowledge the extraordinary good that exists in our communities, because we cannot cultivate what we do not recognize and celebrate.”

Dr. Murthy called on those in the healthcare community to commit to improving our nation’s health in order to realize the vision of all that the U.S. can, and should be. “I that I believe the world gets better when people choose to come together to make it so,” he said, “and I believe that those people must be us.”

Dr. Marc Gourevitch served as moderator for a portion of the session.

Dr. Murthy also answered interview questions from Marc Gourevitch, MD, the Muriel G. and George W. Singer Professor of Population Health and department chair, before taking questions from the audience. He was introduced by Dave Chokshi, MD, MSc, assistant professor as well as assistant vice president in the Office of Healthcare Improvement in New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Watch the full video of Dr. Murthy’s presentation.

-by the NYU Langone Medical Center Department of Communications