Excerpts from prepared remarks by Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan at Yale University yesterday:
The harsh truth is that a high percentage of the disease and disability afflicting the American people is a consequence of unwise choices of behavior and lifestyle.
Those poor choices result in lives that are blighted, stunted, and less fulfilling, and they cause an unnecessary, costly drain on the resources available for health care.
The decision to smoke, for instance, is responsible for one of every six deaths in America each year. The cumulative toll is 390,000 deaths per year, including 21 percent of heart disease deaths, 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, and 30 percent of all cancer deaths. In addition, smoking is responsible for 20 to 30 percent of low birth weight babies. Smoking costs our society over $52 billion annually.
Abuse of alcohol was responsible for one half of the 30,000 motor vehicle deaths in 1988, and 40 percent of the drownings. Drinking is a major cause of cirrhosis, the ninth leading cause of death in the United States; it has been linked to violence, homicide and suicide; and its costs to society amounted to some $70 billion in 1989.
Improper diet and inadequate exercise are other major contributors to poor health outcomes. Poor diet is related to five of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., including coronary heart disease, some types of cancer, stroke and diabetes. Together, unhealthy diet and sedentary habits contribute to 300,000 to 400,000 deaths each year.
For children and youth, injuries are the leading cause of death. The lifetime costs of injuries were estimated to be $158 billion in 1985. . . .
Every day, all about me, I see the . . . tragic price of our cultural indifference -- not only in the prevalence of preventable disease and injury, but also in the vast range of social problems afflicting the American people -- drug and alcohol addiction, escalating child abuse and neglect, children born to unwed teen mothers, families abandoned or never formed. So many of these problems have their roots in the alienation, isolation, and lack of direction that follow from the collapse of societal standards, and the institutions that generate them.
That is why I have traveled from one end of the country to the other over the past two years, calling for a renewed sense of personal responsibility on the part of every American citizen . . . a new "culture of character."