By Chris Casey | University Communications
AURORA, Colo. - On a sunny spring morning, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin and leaders of the new Colorado Center for Health and Wellness practiced what they preach: They strapped on tennis shoes and walked for a mile.
More than 100 people took part in the walk, which looped around part of the Anschutz Medical Campus.
The "Walk with the Surgeon General" event is part of Benjamin's promotion of National Public Health Week and the National Prevention Strategy -- America's plan for better health and wellness. The trek began at the university's new Colorado Center for Health and Wellness and is one of the first events to underscore its mission to offer individuals, organizations and communities access to its state-of-the-art programs, research and activities to promote healthy living and disease prevention.
Scenes from Walk With the Surgeon General:
Dr. Benjamin was joined by James O. Hill, PhD, executive director of the Colorado Center for Health and Wellness; Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA); and about 25 members of the Metro Mayors Caucus. Members of the campus and local communities joined the Surgeon General on the trek.
The Surgeon General briefly chatted with the Mayors Caucus before lacing on her walking shoes and addressing the throng gathered outside the Colorado Center for Health and Wellness. She said Colorado is one of the healthiest states in the nation and serves as a fitting place to celebrate the APHA's National Public Health Week.
"I'm a longtime champion of the power of prevention," Benjamin told the crowd. "Health does not occur in a doctor's office or the hospitals only. Health also occurs where we live, where we learn, where we work, where we play and where we pray."
She highlighted the first-ever National Prevention Strategy, which was released last June. It's strategy is to move the nation's healthcare system from a system based on sickness and disease to one based on wellness and prevention.
America still has problems with obesity and tobacco use, Benjamin said, noting that since 1980 obesity rates have doubled in adults and more than tripled in children. The key is to make prevention and healthy behavior joyful, Benjamin said. "It's something I call my journey to joy ... We can make it fun and we can bring joy back into health. We can bring the joy back to the individuals, the health professionals. We can't underestimate the power of joy."
Her message resonated with the crowd, which loudly applauded Benjamin's calls for prevention.
Rebecca McLean and Lainey Trahan, both second-year graduate students in public health in the Colorado School of Public Health, were among the many people who visited with the Surgeon General on the walk across campus.
"She's a huge advocate for what we are looking to go to school for," McLean said. "It's great to be able to be in front of her and talk to her about the issues going on in Colorado and nationally."
The shift in healthcare focus from after-the-fact care to prevention is "what we're all about. I loved hearing her focus on the youth because the youth are our future and that's who we should be focusing on."
Hill said the stars aligned for today's event, given that the Colorado Center for Health and Wellness is about to open. The center epitomizes the switch from sick care to wellness, which the Surgeon General said is a key to the nation's health.
"We're actually putting it into practice. That's the future of medical centers," he said. "Right now our medical center is a great place to come when you're sick. With this building (the Colorado Center), it's going to be a great place to come to keep from getting sick. I think in that sense we're on the cutting edge of how medical centers in the future are going to handle health differently. It should be about health -- not sickness."
The Metro Mayors Caucus focused on how health care and wellness enhances economic development. The caucus heard from a panel that included Hill, Georges Benjamin, Pam Reichert, of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, and Kelly Dunkin, of the Colorado Health Foundation.
Reichert said health care and wellness is a new industry cluster in Colorado. "We are growing almost two times the national average in this industry cluster," she said.
(Photo: U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin begins her walk across the Anschutz Medical Campus Wednesday morning with James Hill, executive director of the Colorado Center for Health and Wellness, and other walkers)