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View Point: Opposing truths in Illinois public health

Guest Commentary by Jim Davis


Does your behavior match your goal? If the primary goal of public health is to keep people alive and well, then the COVID-19 pandemic should be taken seriously. As of 11/23/20, more than 657,000 Illinois residents have been infected and 12,064 have passed away. Those numbers will undoubtedly increase over the winter months, as people begin to congregate indoors.

This is a serious issue. For those who might compare it to the flu, consider that flu/pneumonia accounts for approximately 2,402 annual deaths across the state. Mortality rates from COVID-19 are already six times higher than the common flu. Those rates are stacking up in the presence of increased guidelines and restrictions. Without those increased guidelines, surely more lives would have been lost.

So if the goal is to keep the people of Illinois alive and well, we should shut down the state to protect them, right? Not so fast.

Remember that the primary goal of Public Health is to keep people alive. More than 31.8% of Illinois residents are obese; obesity is associated with more than 13 types of cancer – cancer is the second leading cause of death in Illinois, claiming more than 24,150 lives each year. The number one cause of death is heart disease. Nearly 25,394 residents die each year from heart disease and we lose about 2,927 more to diabetes – all of these are directly associated with our obesity rates. This is a significant concern.

To keep those numbers down, the CDC recommends exercise. Knowing this, how can we willingly shut down gyms and athletics programs?

How can we tell people they cannot exercise, when it is an essential component to saving lives?

The link between exercise and physical health is obvious. There is also a direct correlation between physical activity and mental health. Exercise helps battle anxiety and depression through a variety of methods, including a significant modulation of the neurochemical serotonin, which has a stabilizing effect on mood and well-being. Perhaps most notably, a number of studies have demonstrated the connection between routine exercise and decreased risk of suicide.

Suicide claims the lives of approximately 1,490 of our people each year. And that was before the isolation, fear, and financial despair felt by many during the pandemic.

Gyms offer not only the mood-boosting benefits of exercise, but the opportunity for people to improve and become empowered. Perhaps most importantly, especially in the conversation of mental health, is that gyms offer a sense of community. In this moment of global isolation, that seems more important than ever.

So we should not shut down opportunities for people to exercise and enhance their health. But we should be careful.

A shut-down is one thing; a set of regulations is another. When those regulations are implemented, they should be followed. 460 Fitness, a popular gym in Virginia, recently had a coach test positive for the virus. That coach had exposed at least 50 gym members… but none of them have since tested positive. Why? Because they were creative and thorough in their prevention protocol.

We should prioritize our health and wellness, which will give us the best shot at fending off the virus, and we should do our best to adhere to public health recommendations, which will give us the best shot at limiting the spread of the virus.

We have to frame COVID as an important public health concern, but not the only public health concern. This is a moment to maintain thoughtful perspective, not entrench ourselves in one side of the discussion or other.

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Jim Davis is the Staff and Student Wellness Coordinator at New Trier High School. Davis earned his B.A. at Knox College in Galesburg, then completed the Masters' program at Northwestern University and finished his education with a Masters in Education from Harvard University. He also a member of the National Strength & Conditioning Association, USA Weightlifting and Natural Athlete Strength Association.

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This article is the sole opinions of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Sentinel. We welcome comments and views from our readers.


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