The centerpiece of Dr. Jeffrey Sterling’s preventive health care presentation to this month’s Black Health Matters Fall Summit was his list of 25 basic tips to improve and protect one’s health, delivered with style and humor. (“Start eating more fish—not talking about fried fish, not talking about Filet o’ Fish, talking about some good old-fashioned baked fish.”)
But his reason behind his list deserved just as much attention: The high cost of health care and the disparity in care for Black people in the United States, is drastically shortening lives, and every step to counteract that in everyday life must be taken immediately.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that we would think that our seeing our primary care physician once a year is a good enough equation for us to deliver adequate health care outcomes,’’ said Sterling, the CEO of the health care consulting firm Sterling Initiatives, and founder of SIMPCO, devoted to preventive health.
“What are we supposed to do those other 364 days out of the year?” he continued. “Well, the answer to that question is that we are supposed to be better stewards of our own health care. But we don’t even know how to be empowered and how to take advantage of things that are the most basic of preventive health care services.’’
The numbers Sterling presented back up his premise: Americans spend $11,000 a year on health care on the average, far too high a price for many; seven out of 10 diseases affecting Americans are preventable; and white men live an average of five years longer than Black men, with white women living three years longer than Black women, according to 2017 statistics.
“That’s the ultimate health-care disparity,’’ Sterling said.
Smart decisions about nutrition and exercise made up the bulk of his list of tips, but he also touched on overlooked areas like flossing regularly (tooth and gum health is essential to vascular efficiency), attending to mental health (getting a pet helps), and safeguarding one’s surroundings (keep home smoke detectors in working order, look both ways while crossing the street, wear seatbelts in the car and a helmet when biking).
Sterling included laughter, taking it further than the adage about it being the best medicine by pointing out the boost to the immune system it provides.
“Learn how to laugh at yourself, learn how to laugh at your friends, learn how to tell a joke, learn how to take a joke. It actually matters,’’ he said.
He included tips about navigating COVID-19, with his “Four W’s”: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance and warn others if you have been exposed.
The goal, Sterling emphasized, is to take control of one’s health amid circumstances that most Americans, especially Black Americans, cannot afford, and that exact a harsh price.
“Do not wait until you get sick,’’ he said, “and you show up in an emergency department and expect us to perform miracles.’’