Healthcare reform should start with our youth, Cottage Hospital CEO says

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National healthcare spending increased 4.6 percent to a record $3.6 trillion in 2018, a growth rate that has shown no signs of slowing as drugs become more expensive and the incidence of chronic conditions continues to increase in the U.S.

However, healthcare spending can begin to be addressed if the U.S. starts diverting dollars to prevention, including education opportunities that target children, according to Maria Ryan, PhD, APRN, and CEO of  Woodsville, N.H.-based Cottage Hospital.

"Once we become adults, it's really hard to change our habits, and bad things are already happening to our bodies," Dr. Ryan said. "I think we need to go to school-age children."

In a session titled "New Ideas in Healthcare Reform" at the Becker's Hospital Review 8th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable in November in Chicago, Dr. Ryan shared six steps to implement in elementary schools to begin improving the health of the U.S., and in turn reduce health spending.

Below is a breakdown of the tips:

1. Expand the public school day. Making the school day longer ensures there is time to cover health or well-being topics, allows a longer lunch period for healthy eating and helps reduce mental burnout by making time for less mentally strenuous activities, Dr. Ryan said. 

2. Mandate nutrition or healthy-eating classes. Ensuring students of all ages have courses on nutrition can help them learn at an early age about portion control, reducing sugar intake and eating a rainbow of whole foods.

3. Offer students breakfast, lunch and snack regardless of ability to pay. Offering students healthy and adequate meals during the day not only will help them focus, but it also helps demonstrate what good nutrition looks like.

4. Bring back self-care and self-sufficiency courses. Offering courses to students such as cooking, stress management, physical activity, debating and personal finance will help students take care of themselves. "When we look at mental health, stress and anxiety is connected with cardiovascular disease and cancers," Dr. Ryan said.

5. Raise the bar on content curriculum. "In our school systems we have dummied down [the curriculum] really far to the lowest common denominator; we are not on the world scale for competition anymore, especially in the sciences and math," Dr. Ryan said.

6. Teach more U.S. history. Teaching U.S. history without bias can promote a sense of belongingness, which is critical to mental health, Dr. Ryan explained.  

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