Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy calls for shift to 'prevention-based society'

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Vivek Murthy, MD, who was sworn in as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States in a ceremony Wednesday, believes the healthcare industry alone cannot remedy American society's health issues. Instead he believes it is the responsibility of all industries to make improving the health of Americans a top priority by focusing on prevention.

"My overarching goal is to get every individual, every institution and every sector in America… to ask themselves the question [of] what they can do to improve the health and strength of our nation," Dr. Murthy said during an interview with the Washington Post.

Much of Dr. Murthy's agenda for his four-year term as U.S. Surgeon General focuses on prevention. Too many patients experience pain, suffering and death from conditions that could have been prevented, Dr. Murthy said. If the U.S. had a healthcare system that was more focused on prevention and keeping people healthy and outside of the hospital, we would be able to prevent a lot of illness and lower healthcare costs.

The way to achieve this is through the creation of a prevention-based society, "in which every institution — whether they're a hospital or a clinic, or a school, an employer or faith-based organization — recognizes and embraces the role that it can play in improving health," according to Dr. Murthy. The traditional healthcare players cannot control and account for all of the external elements that influence a population's health, such as the food they eat, how much they engage in exercise or whether they use drugs or alcohol, he said.

Because people's behavior — and therefore, their health — are influenced by the world around them, it is the responsibility of entities beyond those in healthcare to promote wellness.

"I want to reach out and work with employers, for example, to make physical activity a part of the culture of the workplace," Dr. Murthy told the Washington Post. "So that as opposed to sitting and working, we are walking and working. So that we are incorporating activity whenever and wherever possible, not only because it contributes to better physical health but because we know that physical activity improves your emotional well-being. We know that it contributes to mental function as well."

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