Why Lifestyle Medicine Matters

   There is a movement for change in how
healthcare is provided that can improve the quality
of healthcare and significantly reduce cost.  It’s a
movement that’s been sparked by a recognition that
the status quo approach of treating symptoms with
ever-increasing quantities of expensive pills and
procedures is unsustainable.

   This movement is being led by physicians and
other medical professionals certified through the
American College of Lifestyle Medicine in the
emerging medical specialty called Lifestyle
Medicine.  The goal of this new specialty is to
awaken the public and health professionals to a
realization that using more expensive technology to
manage diseases will never lower healthcare cost or
significantly improve quality of life without first
treating the real causes of disease.  Real health
care reform has to begin with a recognition that
healthcare depends on first addressing how lifestyle
now causes the most common diseases.  

   Unfortunately, the national debate continues to
focus on the cost of healthcare rather than why the
care is needed.  What’s missing is the fact that drug
prices, insurance and healthcare cost, in general,
are symptoms, not root causes.  So, why are our
national leaders so vocal about the symptoms and
so quiet about the root causes?  Could it be the
millions of dollars in campaign contributions from
industries (food, tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceuticals,
hospitals, etc.) that benefit from maintaining the
status quo?

   In an earlier era, the big challenges for health
care were communicable diseases and acute care
situations.  For these needs, we have perhaps the
best healthcare in the world.  Where we fall short is
in treating the 70% of people seeking care for
chronic conditions that could benefit from lifestyle
changes as the first line of therapy.  Unfortunately,
both public health education and medical training
have been slow in meeting this new challenge.  
Nutrition is still rarely taught in medical schools and
yet diet remains the number one cause of disease.

   Lifestyle Medicine doesn’t replace traditional,
modern medicine.  We will always need traditional
acute care medicine and are thankful for it. This
being said, Lifestyle Medicine must become the
foundation of a transformed and sustainable system
of health care delivery that’s focused on identifying
and eradicating the root cause of chronic diseases.
We must recognize that what we eat, how we move,
how we sleep, and how we deal with stress are
foundational pillars that affect most health outcomes.

   Lifestyle Medicine has the potential to arrest and
even reverse chronic disease, adding years to lives
and life to the years. The result can be far less
demanding for costly medical services and
prescription drugs. With Lifestyle Medicine’s focus
on the 80% or more of all healthcare spending tied
to the treatment of conditions rooted in unhealthful
lifestyle behaviors, the national savings has been
estimated at over a trillion dollars a year.

   Unfortunately, for many, unhealthy lifestyle
behaviors have become viewed as the new normal.  
Today we have evidence that heart attacks should
be rare and that the odds for having many forms of
cancer can be greatly reduced.   Still, far too many
view cancer and heart attacks as an inevitable part
of growing older long before they have reached old

   Our nation can reduce demand, improve health
and stop the ever-increasing cost that is draining
the pocketbooks of Americans.  Recent estimates
have 70% of all Americans and 90% of all seniors
taking prescription medications with the U.S.
spending more on pharmaceuticals than the rest of
the world combined.  With a greater emphasis on
lifestyle as the root cause, we can reverse many
chronic diseases and stop this unsustainable cost

   Lifestyle Medicine prevents, treats and,
oftentimes, reverses chronic diseases such as type
2 diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s by
addressing root causes, with evidence-based
lifestyle therapeutic approaches such as a
predominantly whole food, plant-based diet, regular
physical activity, adequate sleep, stress
management, avoidance of risky substance use and
other non-drug treatments.

   Although still a very small part of evidence-based
medicine in America, Lifestyle Medicine is quietly
becoming the fastest-growing medical specialty in
the U.S. and around the world.  This is an
encouraging change in how physicians are being
trained.  Each year more medical schools are
choosing to include “food as medicine” and other
Lifestyle Medicine courses.  Interestingly, The
Association of American Medical Colleges recently
referred to the Lifestyle Medicine Physician as one
of the top five emerging medical careers.

   The question today is, “Can we turn the tide and
create real health care reform.   If it happens it will
be because more of us adopt healthy lifestyle
choices to protect our own health, including those of
us in the medical field.  For those who already have
chronic diseases, making specific and significant
lifestyle changes has the power to arrest and, often,
even reverse these degenerative conditions.  
Importantly, recognize that you are not a victim of
your genes. You, to a very large extent, have the
ability to protect your health and fight disease
through the power of your own lifestyle choices.

   By becoming informed, you can help accelerate
the changes needed by getting information about
the value of  Lifestyle Medicine to people that can
personally benefit and to leaders that can influence
change.  Let them know that you want to be cared
for by a health care system with a Lifestyle Medicine-
first approach that seeks to identify and eradicate
root causes with evidence-based approaches as a
first treatment option. That’s real health care reform!
In an ideal world, doctors would have a pill for every
illness and patients would effortlessly attain perfect
health.  Unfortunately, attaining the best health
possible requires active participation in lifestyle
changes.  Granted this is harder than swallowing a
pill but often so much more effective in providing
quality of life.

   Not to worry, I understand that change is often
difficult.  You can be sure I’ll be rooting for you and
looking forward to being your mentor on the journey
with the best that evidence-based medicine has to

   Nancy Neighbors, MD
       Huntsville, Alabama