It’s nearly New Year’s Eve and if you are typical you will hear someone wish you a new year that brings good health. The promise of good health generally supposes that one will not get sick; in other words, that one will be able to prevent the onset of illness that might cramp ones style or worse.
Prevention of bad health constitutes a huge industry in the United States. For instance, approximately $11 billion was spent on products and services directed towards preventing chronic diseases in 2009 and that number is growing by about 8% per year. Preventive health is comprised of everything from diagnostic and screening products to smoking cessation to immunizations and beyond. According to a study by BCC Health on the topic:
“Prevention must become a cornerstone of the healthcare system rather than an afterthought. This shift requires a fundamental change in the way individuals perceive and access the system as well as the way care is delivered. The system must support clinical preventive services and community-based wellness approaches at the federal, state, and local levels. With a national culture of wellness, chronic disease and obesity will be better managed and, more importantly, reduced.”
Clearly, preventive health is essential to changing our orientation from a system that delivers health care to treat illness to one that fosters good health from the get-go. What we need is a fresh new approach to healthcare prevention, one that people believe in and that doesn’t generate the kind of bills that bankrupt our nation. Why do we need this? Well, there was just a report out that American life expectancy has dropped for the first time in 25 years. I am fairly confident that this is due to excessive Baconator consumption, but there may be other contributing factors. I have often said that the only way we can build a culture of preventive health is by educating children from early on about how to eat right, exercise and otherwise prevent illness so that our next generation of Americans is healthier than our current crop. There have been many attempts to teach preventive health orientation to schoolchildren, but few have yet proven to have a long-term impact.
As I perused a recent array of articles on unique approaches to teaching children about preventive health, I came across one approach which no doubt leaves a lasting impression.
Japanese parents apparently swear by a 400-year old method of fostering a lifetime of good health called Naki Sumo. Naki Sumo is also known as the “baby crying festival” and it is held every year at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. Japanese parents bring their babies to the temple in order to allow amateur Sumo wrestlers to hold the babies high in the air and scare the hell out of them in order to coax them into crying (no squeezing or shaking allowed, mercifully). A Sumo referee judges the match to determine the winner, who is basically the kid who cries longest and loudest. The idea behind Naki Sumo is that the experience wards off evil spirits and thus blesses the terrified tot with a life characterized by good health. I’m guessing it also blesses them with a diaper that needs changing. It is possible that the absence of evil spirits accounts for a lifetime of good health, but it is equally likely those babies are being imprinted with a permanent impression that if they get sick some real fat guy will scare the living hell out of them. Hey, whatever works.
In 2010, 80 babies under one year of age participated in Naki Sumo and were thus provided the ultimate preventive health spa treatment. Apparently those who cried the loudest and longest get the greatest “spiritual favors.” I am guessing that if the screaming babies had been on an airplane, the special spiritual favors would have tended more towards being stuffed into the air-sickness bags, but fortunately they were high on a hill in Japan where no one else could hear them. In the case of Naki Sumo, spiritual favors come in the form of of a lifetime of healthiness.
As an economical approach to preventive health, it’s hard to beat Naki Sumo. No expensive technology, no repeat interventions, no fancy-pants physicians. It’s low tech and can be delivered by amateurs in the great outdoors.
The biggest problems with Naki Sumo, of course, are scalability and lack of access to Sumo wrestlers. 80 babies is a good start, but there are obviously a few more to cover (about 4 million are born each year in the U.S. alone). And I’m not sure if it’s as hard to recruit and deploy Sumo wrestlers nationwide as it is to cover the demand for nurses, but you just don’t see them on every street-corner. On the other hand, our nation’s eating habits ought to cut down the time it takes to get people to Sumo fighting (or treating) weight, so we are already trending in the right direction.
Some further food for thought: Sumo wrestling is apparently a strict meritocracy; you gain rank and pay in Sumo only by winning; if you lose you drop in rank. In other words, as practitioners they are already reimbursed on a pay-for-performance basis, no change in business model necessary to align pay with clinical outcome.
And one last thought: if we empty the nation’s hospitals through Naki Sumo, we can redeploy those stunning backless hospital gowns as Sumo wrestler loin cloths. Now that’s recycling. Inexpensive and green. What more could you ask?