Laura Bush

Remarks at the 2007 National Prevention and Health Promotion Summit - Nov. 27, 2007

Laura Bush
November 27, 2007— Washington, DC
2007 National Prevention and Health Promotion Summit
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Thank you, Tevi. Thank you for that very kind introduction. I want to recognize the Acting Surgeon General, Dr. Steven Galson, who is here with us today; Dr. Julie Gerberding, who you all just got to hear, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Rear Admiral Penny Royall, my good friend that I knew years ago in Midland, Texas, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and also the organizer of this great conference. Thank you very much, Penny, for everything you've done.

Distinguished guests -- and I know in this crowd there are very distinguished guests who are working all over the country to make sure Americans do benefit from really good health -- I'm happy to be here with you at the 2007 National Prevention and Health Promotion Summit to talk about all of the ways each of us can keep ourselves and our fellow citizens in good health.

Good health starts with good habits. By educating ourselves about our bodies -- and by taking simple steps to protect them -- we can prevent or delay some of today's most common and devastating health conditions. Five of the leading causes of death in the United States -- heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, and diabetes -- can be avoided or reduced with wise lifestyle choices. Too few Americans, though, practice the behaviors that can protect their health, and the health of their families. Nearly two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight or obese. More than 60 percent of Americans do not get enough physical activity.

These behaviors -- and the poor health they cause -- can have a devastating effect on us and on the lives of our friends, our families, and our loved ones. Today, more than 90 million Americans live with chronic, preventable health conditions that keep them from enjoying life to the fullest.

Poor health takes an enormous toll on our economy. Sick workers cost businesses millions of dollars in lost productivity. The private sector, and government, pay even more in insurance and health care costs. Medical treatment for chronic diseases costs $1.5 trillion dollars a year. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that overweight and obesity alone cost American families, businesses, and government approximately $117 billion every year. I know that's the last thing we want to hear just five days after Thanksgiving dinner. (Laughter.)

The good news, though, is that there are things that each of us can do -- as individuals, as family members, as caregivers, as heads of business, and leaders of government -- to take better care of ourselves, and the people around us.

The federal government is doing its part by educating Americans about preventive measures that can save their own lives. In 2002, President Bush announced the HealthierUS Initiative, which promotes four pillars of good health. The first is to Be Physically Active Every Day. Even just walking for half an hour, or enjoying the outdoors with your children and family, can yield improvements in health and fitness.

The second pillar is to Eat a Nutritious Diet. By making simple adjustments to our eating habits -- like consuming more fruits and vegetables, and reducing portion size -- Americans can lower our risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.

The third pillar is to Get Preventive Screenings. More than one in five American adults has never had a cholesterol screening. But basic tests like cholesterol checks, or blood-pressure screenings, can reveal life-threatening health conditions. The fourth pillar is to Make Healthy Choices, to reduce the devastating health effects of drugs, alcohol abuse, and sexually transmitted diseases.

By following these four pillars, we can prevent or delay much of America's chronic disease burden. For Americans, though, who can't afford private health insurance or visits to the doctors, there are resources available to help them protect their health. In 2002, President Bush launched the Community Health Care Centers Initiative to improve medical care in our nation's underserved communities. The Initiative is on track to establish or expand 1,200 community health clinic sites, which can provide primary and preventive health care to millions of low-income and uninsured patients.

Medicare covers preventive health care and screenings -- including cardiovascular examinations, shots and vaccines, and tests for osteoporosis and diabetes. Now, when an eligible patient signs up for Medicare, he or she can receive a free physical. The program also covers cancer tests, including mammograms, as well as screenings for cervical, vaginal, colon, and prostate cancers. And Medicare's new prescription drug benefit covers medicines that can help senior citizens manage chronic diseases -- like cholesterol medicines and insulin.

The 2007 open enrollment period for the prescription drug benefit started on November 15th, and it ends on December 31st. So I urge each of you to get the word out to senior citizens to sign up online at -- or the senior citizens can get their grandkids to help. (Laughter.) You can also call 1-800-Medicare. And I urge all Americans to take advantage of these federal programs -- as well as state insurance programs like Medicaid, and health fairs and screenings offered by organizations in each of your own communities -- and, in fact, I suspect that many of you are the organizers of these health screenings and health fairs. Make sure all Americans and everyone in your community can benefit from preventive medical help.

There are also things each of us can do as well to improve our health and well-being. HHS has compiled a list of more than 100 small steps that individuals and families can take to reach the four important health goals outlined in the HealthierUS Initiative. The list is available on the website All of the steps are easy adjustments that can add up to a healthier lifestyle -- like drinking a glass of water before meals, or taking stairs instead of the escalator or the elevator.

One of my favorite trips to be active is, "Walk the dog, don't just watch the dog walk." (Laughter.) Fortunately, Barney and Miss Beazley don't give me much of a choice. One good tip for the holiday seasons is to "Walk briskly through the mall and shop until you drop -- pounds." (Laughter.) Another good recommendation for exercise is to "Pace the sideline at your kids' athletic games." And as a former soccer mom, I can say that a lot of parents do that without prompting.

All of the SmallStep tips are simple and they're free. And they remind us that we don't have to be Olympic athletes to stay in shape. In fact, if just one out of every 10 adults began walking regularly, our country could save more than $5.6 billion in costs related to heart disease.

The SmallStep suggestions -- and the HealthierUS Initiative -- benefit Americans of all ages. But seniors especially need to know that poor health is not a foregone consequence of aging -- and that with the right choices and behavior, seniors can increase their chances of leading long, happy, healthy, and active lives. And President Bush and I like to remind ourselves of this fact -- it's good to keep in mind when you're over 60.

These programs also benefit young people, who are a leading priority of our federal health awareness and promotion efforts. Our children have access to medical and scientific advances our parents never dreamed of -- but too few young people follow the very basic practices that can keep them in good health today, and over the course of their lives.

Our government is working to encourage children and teens to make wise choices about their health. In 2005, President Bush announced the Helping America's Youth Initiative, and he asked me to lead it. Across the country, I've met with teachers and coaches who educate young people about the lifelong consequences of the decisions they make today. I've met mentors who encourage young people to respect themselves and their bodies. And I've seen excellent programs that help young people avoid risky behaviors like tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancy.

Our government also supports initiatives like the Junior Ranger program, which encourages children to explore our country's magnificent national parks. As young people learn about America's history, culture, and natural environment, they can also walk, bike, climb, swim, hike, and ride in our parks with their families and friends.

Our government is working to address one of the greatest dangers to America's young people: childhood overweight and obesity. More than 10 million school-age children in the United States -- nearly one in five -- is overweight. The percentage of overweight young people in the United States has nearly tripled over the last three decades -- and the problem seems to be getting worse.

Being overweight increases a child's risk for adult heart disease and diabetes. In fact, research indicates that Type 2 diabetes, while still rare, is being diagnosed more frequently in children and adolescents -- particularly in American-Indian children, Hispanics, and African Americans. Overweight and obesity exposes children to painful social stigma, and conditions like sleep apnea and asthma. It lowers their life expectancy, and it raises health care costs for their families and for our entire country.

In 2005, HHS launched the WeCan! Initiative, which promotes better nutrition for children, and educates parents and caregivers about how to get children to spend less time in front of the TV and computer screen, and more time being physically active. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has partnered with states and schools to improve physical education, and to provide more nutritious foods for children during the school day. Through the "Be A Player" Campaign, HHS has joined with the National Football League to encourage younger children to stay fit by playing for at least an hour a day. And how great it would be if we all had the chance to play for an hour a day. (Laughter.) That's a great thing for parents to say to their children.

Today, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching a new effort -- led by the Surgeon General -- to coordinate and expand our government's existing childhood-overweight and -obesity prevention programs. As part of this campaign, the Department's Administration for Children and Families will establish a new National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play. With a $12 million, four-year grant, the Center will help Head Start programs across the country evaluate their playgrounds and their outdoor play spaces, and educate children and families about the importance of healthy food and physical activity.

ACF will also provide $10 million to build and upgrade Head Start Playgrounds, making sure children have safe places to play and exercise outdoors. I want to thank the Acting Surgeon General, Dr. Steven Galson, for helping to lead these important programs. (Applause.)

Of course, the best way to help children make wise decisions about their health is to teach them by our own good example. This is especially important for women. Women make most of the health decisions for their entire families. Women, though, are usually so busy taking care of everyone else -- our children, our husbands, our pets, our jobs -- that we forget to take care of ourselves. But some of the greatest threats to women's health can be alleviated with simple preventive care practices, and by just paying attention to our bodies. With prevention and early detection, women can save their own lives.

Prevention and early detection are the most effective ways to save lives from breast cancer, which accounts for more than one in four cancers diagnosed in American women. Just this year, breast cancer will claim the lives of more than 40,000 women. But thanks to successful public awareness and education campaigns, millions of women have learned about the importance of early detection.

Today, everybody knows what the pink ribbon stands for. The pink ribbon encourages and reminds women to get mammograms and to conduct regular breast self-exams. We know that when breast cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate in the United States is 98 percent. With prevention and with early detection, breast cancer patients are becoming breast cancer survivors -- like my mother, Jenna Welch.

Prevention is also our best defense against heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among women and men in the United States. Too many women, though, have no idea that heart disease poses such a threat to their health. They think that heart attacks are a man's problem. If they suffer the symptoms of a heart attack, they dismiss it as anxiety -- and they often get to the hospital too late.

In 2002, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute joined with the Department of Health and Human Services to launch the Heart Truth Campaign. Nothing draws attention like a red dress -- so this is the Heart Truth's symbol. Already, the initiative -- and the little red dress -- are raising women's awareness. In 2000, only 34 percent of American women recognized heart disease as the leading cause of death among women. Five years later, the number has climbed to 55 percent.

Because more women know about heart disease, more women are taking charge of their own health -- and saving their own lives. In 2003, one out of every three American women who died, died from heart disease. Just one year later, the number dropped to one in four. These numbers represent about 17,000 women who are still wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends -- and not victims of a heart attack.

One of these women is Joyce Cullen. A few years ago, Joyce was watching TV at her home in Kansas City, and she saw the local coverage of one of the very first Heart Truth events I did. From the TV segment, Joyce learned that the symptoms of heart disease in women are often very different than they are in men. She learned that for women, the first sign of heart disease can be a pain in the neck, or jaw pain, or persistent fatigue -- not the crushing chest pain that we're used to seeing in the movies.

Joyce's doctor had given her a clean bill of health -- but that night, she woke up with some of these symptoms. She turned to her husband and said: "Let's pray, and then take me straight to the hospital." (Laughter.) He did -- and at the hospital, Joyce learned that she was having a heart attack.

Today, Joyce speaks to churches all over Kansas City. She shares her knowledge with other African-American women -- informing them that women of color are more susceptible to heart disease. After her heart attack, Joyce wrote me to say, "You saved my life." Now, Joyce gets letters from the women she's spoken to, thanking her for saving their lives.

Today, women like Joyce are seeing the benefits of good health habits in their own lives. Businesses are seeing the benefits of their workplace health-awareness programs in reduced absenteeism and lower insurance costs. And all of us can see the benefits of health education and prevention in a happier, healthier, and more productive nation.

Thanks to each one of you for your work to promote good health. Over the next two days, you'll discuss how to improve our national health initiatives, and work to bring these successful programs to your own cities and communities. I wish you the very best for this Summit -- and for the very important work you do every day to save lives.

Thank you all very much. (Applause.)
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