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Interview with Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., FACS: Part II


Healthline is privileged to have Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States, as a member of our Board of Directors. He also serves at the renowned Canyon Ranch where he is vice chairman of the company, and is president of the non-profit Canyon Ranch Institute, as well as the first Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. Dr. Carmona has a lot on his mind that he wants to share with all of us about improving health and wellness and he was so generous as to spend some time with me, sharing his ideas.


JC: Could you talk about your work with Canyon Ranch Institute?

Dr. C: Canyon Ranch has established itself as the number-one brand in health and wellness for 28 years. Mel Zuckerman, the founder who created this whole enterprise out of a little piece of desert, feels a strong sense of social responsibility. His mission is to help others choose health and wellness and reject the disease thesis. When the University of Arizona wanted a college of public health, who do you think funded it? Mel and Enid Zuckerman funded it. Their Canyon Ranch has become a global organization with a goal to make the nation and the world healthier.

Once you are Surgeon General, you are always Surgeon General, and all of us Surgeons General are working to improve health disparities in the United States and around the world. This dovetails with my work here at Canyon Ranch Institute. We are doing exciting work in New York City – the South Bronx – one of the poorest communities in the country. We are helping our partner there to start a Life Enhancement Center at their Federally-Qualified Community Health Center in order to promote health and wellness habits. I am working with David Satcher, MD , PhD, 16th Surgeon General of the United States, on a project in Atlanta. We are working on projects in the Hispanic community in Arizona. We are working with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation on a health education project for high-school students in Cleveland. We are exporting best practices to communities that can’t afford to come to Canyon Ranch. We’re translating the best available science in culturally competent ways to help people understand and use the information to effect behavior change that leads to improved health.

JC: Can you elaborate on the idea of “rejecting the disease thesis”?

Dr. C: The disease thesis is the idea that as we age we are going to have chronic diseases. We live sedentary lifestyles, engage in high-risk activities – drinking too much, smoking, riding in a car without a seatbelt. The reality is that 75% of all chronic diseases are preventable. The national health care budget is $2.1 trillion or 16% of the GNP. $1.5 trillion of that is spent on illnesses that could be prevented – if we reject the disease thesis that we are “inevitably” going to get sick. Diabetes, obesity, cancer – are all preventable illnesses for the most part. We want to change the culture to a culture that embraces health and wellness, and we have the science to support that approach.

JC: What about in poor communities where there is limited access to health-promoting foods like fresh produce?


Dr. C: You are what you eat and we want to improve the health literacy of the nation. One-third of people in the United States don’t understand the connection between what they do and eat and their health. We have unique communities where health disparities exist. Not only is there lack of access to produce, people on food stamps need to stretch their dollars so they buy the cheapest foods – like lots of starches and so forth to fill up with. We have tremendous areas of challenge in our nation

JC: Food deserts, they are called.

Dr. C: Yes, and there could be increased job opportunities, too, but there is the perception that these neighborhoods are too risky. I grew up in neighborhoods like that, and I know that if you empower people with the resources, they can make their communities healthier. It’s about tapping into their social structures and leaders – the people like my abuelita – my grandmother – who made all the food and health decisions for our family.


Thank you straightedge217 for use of photo South Bronx.


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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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