US Surgeon General visits campus, calls for students to take action

Areeba Khwaja

The 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, visited UT on Thursday with a call for action: Americans need to change their perception of health.

Murthy challenged students to not wait until they have completed their education to take a stand. College students can speak out about issues such as stress, mental illness and nutrition. Through health activism, college students can call attention to important issues and encourage others to speak out. 

“We have more resources and knowledge now than we have ever had before,” Murthy said. “What are we going to do with it? What ideals are we going to advance? What visions will we put forth?” 

Murthy explained how college students could implement his vision of prevention-based medicine. 

“Creating a prevention-based society is really the most important public health challenge we are facing right now,” Murthy said. “How do we shift our society from having an almost entire focus on treatment to a focus on prevention?”

Murthy said that students must ignore some negative stigmas that American society has always held against health. 

“Health has a branding problem,” he said. “The pursuit of health is not seen as exciting; it is seen as a route of pain.”

Many Americans struggle to maintain their health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one third of U.S. adults are obese. 

But there is some good news. According to Murthy, even the smallest efforts can add up. Simple strategies, such as effective urban planning, can directly influence the lives of everyone in a community. 

“We have to recognize that health flows through every element of our society,” Murthy explained. “There is no such thing as a non-health sector, so why do we not choose to recognize that?” 

Brisk walking for 22 minutes a day can decrease risk of heart disease and diabetes significantly, according to the CDC. Yet, three out of every ten Americans don’t have access to a sidewalk, according to Murthy. 

“People get excited about the next innovative thing, but no one gets excited about a sidewalk,” Murthy explains, “A sidewalk is an important interventional public health tool.”

And in order to achieve a prevention-based society, Murthy said that America needs a complete cultural shift.

“Recognize that people make decisions with their heart,” Murthy said. “You have to find something people will actually respond to.”

In order to truly reach a patient, Murthy said that it is not enough to simply tell a patient that they need to exercise, eat healthy or cut back on sugar. Instead, healthcare professionals must work to build a connection between those measures. They need to help patients realize that prevention-based medicine will help their patients see their grandchildren grow up, according to Murthy. 

But the answer doesn’t just lie in retraining physicians or creating new health legislation. Murthy said that every American needs to make a conscious effort to shift their perception on health and understand what our role is in maintaining a healthy society. 

“I could have just said, we need prevention-based policy, but what we need is a culture of prevention,” Murthy explained, “Because when it comes to building a prevention based society, it’s not just about the policies. It’s about the culture we help shape that supports those policies.”

Murthy has called on Americans everywhere, especially students on college campuses, to take charge. 

“Our best days in medicine and public health are in front of us,” Murthy stated. “And I want all of you to be the people who help us get there. Build a new future for this country that is grounded in a culture of prevention.”