Each week, Cindy Rima and Lilly Tryon spend their time at the local Volunteers in Medicine clinic to educate Chattanoogans without access to health care about lifestyle changes they can make to improve their overall health.
Rima and Tryon hope that informing individuals about available resources and the dramatic improvements "lifestyle medicine" can have on health will start a revolution in the current health care approach. The two assistant professors at Southern Adventist University said they have helped folks with obesity, arthritis and other chronic diseases learn how to prevent illness, instead of just managing a disease after the diagnosis.
"We need to let [the individual] know they're in control," said Tryon. "We need to empower them with what they can do to improve their health."
She and Rima are two of the 239 health professionals and physicians certified nationwide in lifestyle medicine. The inaugural exam for certification was offered in October. Just under 300 U.S. health care professionals took the exam, and only four in Tennessee passed.
"[The exam] was a pioneering endeavor," Rima said.
"It was especially hard because we had no idea what was going to be on the test. I was thrilled I passed," said Tryon.
Lifestyle medicine is meant to be a more economically viable approach to health care that minimizes the need for expensive medications and treatments.
The practice assesses various areas, including an individual's sleep, relationships, diet, and exercise habits, and seeks to improve health through these facets, not just as preventives against diseases, but also as cures for those already diagnosed.
Compared to the traditional approach to medicine, this holistic approach can save people money, says Trion, which is especially important in Chattanooga. Tennessee sits in the stroke and diabetes belts, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Nationwide, health care expenditures in 2010 were $2.7 trillion, and 86 percent of those costs, or $2.3 trillion, was from people managing chronic and mental health conditions.
That especially holds true for the average Tennesseean. The state has the nation's sixth-worst rate of obesity, a leading cause of major health concerns including heart disease and diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Assocation, roughly 15 percent of Tennesseans have diabetes and another 36 percent have prediabetes. That alone translates to huge medical expenses. The CDC reports that people with diabetes spend 2.3 times more on medical care than people without the disease.
Rima and Tryon hope to mitigate such costs for locals by sharing information and resources to improve the related health aspects, and actually showing patients how to do it.
"What's most rewarding is when we can work with patients and see a difference," said Tryon.
Email Kaitlin Colon at firstname.lastname@example.org.