At UnitedHealthcare, we are dedicated to making the health system work better for everyone, but we also understand that health extends beyond the doctor’s office or pharmacy. In fact, the National Academy of Medicine estimates that medical care only accounts for 10-20% of the contributors to healthy outcomes in a population. The other 80-90% are attributed to health-related behaviors and factors beyond the healthcare system.
Whole person health involves considering all factors that account for the health outcomes in an individual. Things like exercise, diet and family history of disease might come to mind first, but whole person health also includes social, geographic, and economic factors that play a role in health outcomes, like lacking proper transportation to medical services or living in a food desert.
Tackling whole person health means empowering individuals, families, and communities to consider all biological, behavioral, social, and environmental factors that have an impact on their health. Often, this means providing health education, resources, and community spaces where underserved populations can prioritize their health beyond medical care.
For example, in 2021 UnitedHealthcare partnered with Art in the Paint to refurbish a basketball court in Rose Circle Park, in a neighborhood near Atlanta’s West End. The new court provides a safe, accessible, and beautiful place for the community to play basketball, exercise and come together to spend time outdoors. Part of UnitedHealthcare’s $25,000 donation also funded basketball clinics for neighborhood youths, as well as health and wellness education and other community programming.
The new court not only makes athletic facilities previously unavailable in the neighborhood accessible for exercise, but also creates a community space where local children and adults alike can gather. The benefits are far beyond only physical health. The initiative is also helping to address social issues and behavioral health in the area.
It is particularly important to prioritize whole health in younger populations. Establishing healthy habits in children early can prevent issues like diabetes, chronic disease, and mental health problems later in life. Sometimes, creating safe spaces for exercise, health education and social interaction is necessary for children in underserved areas.
In 2019, UnitedHealthcare, in partnership with pro golfer Rory McIlroy, provided a $58,000 grant to the East Lake YMCA to support the Youth Fit 4 Life afterschool program. The program provides a variety of fun activities to help build strength, endurance, and flexibility for participating children. In addition, the program uses a series of self-management skills-building exercises to reinforce healthy behaviors over time.
The Youth Fit 4 Life program is designed to address physical and behavioral health in participating children, while also providing a safe setting to socialize and spend time with peers. This is vital in a community of working-class families that often can’t afford childcare while working long shifts.
Whole person health is deeply connected to an individual’s community. Geographic location or the lack of a support system can both factor in access to resources like medical services, food, and health education. Beyond just encouraging healthy behaviors, leaders and organizations focused on public health must address the varied needs of a community and provide the right tools to address whole person health.