RETHINKING • Nutrition, athletics give kids tools to take better care of themselves
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Oregonians are paying too high a price for the nation's broken health care system.

On one hand, health care costs are increasing each year at a breakneck pace. Nationally, the expense of health care as a percentage of the gross national product has increased from 4 percent decades ago to more than 16 percent today - and it is expected to hit 24 percent.

But at the same time, health care availability is declining. An estimated 600,000 Oregonians have no health insurance. Of that number, three-quarters are gainfully employed but are without workplace benefits or unable to afford their own coverage.

Numerous national efforts have arisen to address the health care crisis. We are pleased to see Oregonians - including U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, former Gov. John Kitzhaber and Mark Ganz, the head of Oregon-based Regence Blue Cross - at the forefront of several reform strategies. Locally, the Oregon Business Plan has made health care reform a major emphasis of its 2007 economic improvement strategy.

Healthier choices needed

Such efforts may seem distant and impersonal for everyday Oregonians. But while individuals have only so much influence over government policies, they can take an immediate and intimate part in health care reform by making their own health a priority.

Inside today's Tribune, our latest edition of Rethinking Portland examines the health care crisis and offers telling stories that support strategic recommendations for reform. The impact of poor food choices and lack of exercise is one such story.

The combination of unhealthy food and sedentary habits is an overwhelmingly large contributor to poor health, huge medical costs and between 310,000 and 580,000 U.S. deaths annually.

Yet diet-induced diseases need not be so pervasive if we make choice - not chance - a part of our lifestyles, and if we also make good diet and exercise a daily requirement in children's education.

Restore PE, tax video games

In Rethinking Portland, we offer many health care reform strategies. Here are a few more:

• Local schools must make physical education classes a daily requirement. In Portland Public Schools, many elementary and middle schools offer no PE. Other districts only offer daily physical education in middle schools, while requiring PE on a more limited basis in elementary and high schools.

• Health classes need to make nutrition education a requirement in middle and high schools.

• Local school districts that have cut after-school athletics and activities for middle schoolers should restore those programs.

• The state of Oregon must consider following the lead of almost 20 other states that have adopted taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages - such as soda pops, candies and potato chips - and direct those funds to physical education and nutrition curriculum and programs.

• The state should adopt a tax on video games. Hours of playing video games, combined with poor diet, increasingly turns youngsters into candidates for Type 2 diabetes and early-age coronary risk. These new funds should be directed at education and programs that provide incentives for healthy choices.

• Local champions for personal good health choices and good nutrition ought to be more vocal and make health care reform as prominent a priority as stable school funding, environmental quality and equitable land-use laws.

Ultimately, we believe health care reform will be as much determined by personal choice as it will be influenced by changes in how health care is provided by physicians and hospitals - or by how much it costs.

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