Ask a Doctor

[Sports Illustrated Kids featuring Hunter Lussi (May 2009)]

Miles J. Varn, M.D., Chief Medical Officer
250 West Pratt Street, Suite 1100 | Baltimore, Maryland 21201

To whom it may concern:

I have followed with great interest Hunter Lussi’s recent efforts to promote health in America. I have also been impressed and inspired by Hunter’s campaign to make fitness and wellness an integral part of the healthcare debate.

No doubt, a part of my interest stems from knowing Hunter and his family for the past 6 years. I have been fortunate enough to watch Hunter develop and mature as a highly successful, competitive athlete. And part of my enthusiasm stems from my own interest in fitness and past experience as a trialthelete.

However, what is truly inspiring is that Hunter has taken the initiative to suggest concepts that, from my perspective as a physician and one who advises others regarding health and wellness, are not only essential to achieving meaningful cost savings in the healthcare system, but also that are integral to achieving important, enduring health goals.

My professional experience has led me to a fairly straightforward but often ignored conclusion: children and adults must be motivated to become and to stay healthy. Inertia is a very powerful force, and despite the “take a pill for it” mentality so prevalent today, no one is able to buy “wellness credits” or pay someone else to eat properly and/or to exercise on their behalf. They must do it themselves, and it is not always easy. Good health must become a way of life; like going to school or paying taxes.

I spend a great deal of time lecturing about good health and anti aging. The concepts are actually quite simple: don’t smoke, eat a rainbow variety of proper foods, exercise regularly, sleep properly and reduce stress. This sounds easy, but the reality is that most of us fail because we donít find either the motivation or develop the internal, personal accountability necessary to succeed.

As a result, obesity is an ever increasing problem in adults and children. Consequently, diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and joint disorders are becoming more of a serious problem in young adults. The cost of these problems is twofold: the actual dollar cost of care is high and increasing at an exponential rate; the hidden cost is that those prematurely afflicted with what used to be thought of as more “genetic” problems grow up unhappy, unmotivated and unsatisfied. An unhappy child becomes an unhappy adult, robbed of the opportunity to succeed in even some of the most basic of life’s challenges.

What impresses me about Hunter is not just that he was able to see a vision of what might be and was internally motivated to change his destiny, but rather Hunter has transferred that experience to a broader cause and is suggesting ways to direct health reform that are as brilliant as they are simple. Motivate children and adults to achieve wellness goals and the vast majority will succeed. Hunter is not suggesting that everyone become a star athlete, but that everyone be given the opportunity to satisfy their own personal health goal; whether that goal be a healthy diet, losing weight, walking, biking, swimming, strength training or whatever activity that one chooses that leads to better health. He recognizes what many of us physicians have recognized for some time: that healthcare has focused for much too long on ways to treat disease and not ways to prevent disease at its earliest stage.

Today we penalize individuals for conditions they have developed or behaviors that they cannot find the motivation to change. They are denied insurance and fall into the labyrinth of services that that care for the chronically ill. We all contribute to the actual cost, but only these individuals pay the personal cost of failure. With proper motivation and incentives at the earliest stages as Hunter is suggesting, many of these patients unfortunately will stumble into the dark hole of health failure.

Maybe it takes someone younger to recognize what is an essential component of successful healthcare reform. Provide financial incentives to encourage good health. Maybe Hunter as a teen can see the vision because he is closer to that ultimate time where most of us choose to follow the path of least resistance or choose a different destiny. In all the complexity inherent in this debate, Hunter’s vision is as compelling as it is simple.

As a physician and as a friend, I applaud Hunter for his success. I commend him for his motivation and desire to change the world in a positive way by focusing his energy on what he knows so well. This is the beginning of a grass roots approach to solving a problem we all as children and adults see in front of us each and every day. Most of us choose to ignore it. Fortunately Hunter has chosen to embrace this challenge with determination and enthusiasm. I for one am ready to join his team.


Miles J. Varn, MD