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From Farmers' Markets To Soda Tax, Coalition Aims To Make State National Wellness Leader

This graph says it all: We spend too much money on sickness and not enough on staying healthy. To parse it: 50% of how healthy you are depends on your own behavior. But only 4% of health care spending goes toward "healthy behaviors;" the system sits back while you gain weight or smoke or fail to exercise, then pours money into treating the chronic illnesses that may result.

A new coalition is taking aim at those numbers. Just announced at the Massachusetts State House, it is called "Healthy People/Healthy Economy," and includes a broad, anybody-who's-anybody swath of players, from legislators to health insurers to business leaders to public health officials to The Boston Foundation, which is spearheading the project with the New England Healthcare Institute. The coalition's Website is here.

The state is already the national leader in medical care and also the national leader in access to that care, said Boston Foundation head Paul Grogan. "It is now time to assume a similar leadership position with regard to health and wellness," he said.

How? The coalition laid out a plan of action that included measures anyone would be hard-pressed to argue with: increased physical activity for students; increased access to healthy foods; financial incentives to reward healthy behaviors.

And then there's the potentially more controversial one: repealing the sales tax exemption on candy and soda, which would generate an estimated $52 million that could be used to help promote wellness.

Even without controversy, the coalition faces a battle against deep cultural norms. Chatting after the State House press conference, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, chair of the Joint Committee on Public Health, described the Puerto Rican habit of fried pork in the morning, fried pork in the evening. Changing that will come hard, he said.

P.S. Conflict of interest disclosure: I did gratefully accept one of the little pedometers that the coalition handed out at the event, and also a free sample of local, gluten-free Heartbreak Sauce, from burninlovesauces.com.

This program aired on November 30, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth blog.

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