For this first installment in the “Ask the Doc” series, I am going to respond to a question that was put to me at my first Board of Health meeting: What are the greatest health threats to our community?

My answers:

#5: Climate Change — While malnutrition, malaria, and dehydration are more immediate risks in economically developing regions, climate change is such an ominous threat to global health, it has to be on the list.

#4: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) — A landmark 1998 study found that childhood abuse, neglect, and exposure to other traumatic stressors are incredibly common. Nearly two-thirds of participants reported at least one ACE, while over 20 percent reported three or more ACE! These exposures lead to immense suffering and burden of disease in survivors, with increased risks of heart disease, depression, alcohol and illicit substance abuse, and suicide attempts.

#3: Our Healthcare System — A 2013 Journal of Patient Safety paper meticulously detailed how millions are harmed by the system that’s supposed to help us. Every year in the U.S., 400,000 patients die as a result of preventable harm in hospitals. If we consider serious but non-fatal harm, the figure is 10 to 20 times that number. Add to that the harms caused by prescription drug abuse, direct marketing to patients, and antibiotic misuse, and healthcare might actually be the number one cause of death and disease in the country.

#2: Our lifestyles — In short, we eat crap and sit on our butts WAY too much. Three trillion dollars a year gets spent on healthcare, but 70 percent of the conditions treated are preventable. The average American watches five hours of TV a day, and our processed diet of simple sugars leads to inflammation, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. If food is our medicine, we need a new prescription.

#1: Isolation — The illusion that we are separate from each other and our environment is the last nail in the coffin. We are genetically and socially designed to exist within a tightly knit network of people, integrated seamlessly with nature. While we’ve developed the capacity to share information at light speed, we’ve put empathy on the endangered feelings list.

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— David Didden, MD – Health Officer, Jefferson County, WV.

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