By Glenn Ellis
According to a new survey from CIT Bank conducted by The Harris Poll, despite the turbulence of 2020, Americans are not turning their backs on making goals for the year ahead. In fact, more Americans planned to make New Year’s resolutions for 2021 (43 percent) than did so for 2020 (35 percent).
After a turbulent 2020, many of us are looking to 2021 as a fresh start. Do you have a New Year’s resolution or goal for the new year? Did you have to put off your 2020 goals because of COVID-19? Has the pandemic given you a new perspective that makes your resolutions – or how you plan to achieve them – different than what you might have done in the past? How have your goals for the future changed in our “new normal”?
After almost the entirety of 2020, we are learning more about COVID-19 every day. Much of what we have learned should factor in each of our list of New Year’s Resolutions. These lessons are relevant for children as well as adults of all ages. While children have been less affected by COVID-19 compared to adults, children can be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 and some children develop severe illness. By now it should be clear that COVID-19 is an equal opportunity killer.
What we have witnessed and learned from COVID-19 in 2020 should inform us on making New Year’s resolutions that matter, and ones that we should be committed to keeping moving forward. Here are some of the key takeaways: chronic disease and vaccines.
Chronic diseases: The COVID-19 health crisis has caused massive disruptions in diagnosing and treating people with deadly but preventable diseases, such as diabetes; high blood pressure; obesity, etc.. People with chronic conditions are more vulnerable to catching and dying from COVID-19. In addition, their exposure to risk factors – such as substance abuse, social isolation and unhealthy diets – has dramatically increased during the pandemic.
Because of this insight, it is imperative that all resolutions for the new year include particular attention to limits or restrictive availability of food supplies, so careful planning on how to maintain a good, consistently healthy diet. Care must also be given to considerations on physical activity and exercise. Regular physical activity helps improve your overall health, fitness, and quality of life. It also helps reduce your risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, many types of cancer, depression and anxiety, and dementia.
Finally, a word about chronic conditions and medical care. Pharmacies and community clinics are less able to handle the demands than ever. Make sure your resolutions include a promise (to yourself) to be as compliant as possible with the treatment plans and/or medications prescribed for your condition(s). Commit to monitoring your blood pressure and/or blood sugar at home on a daily basis. Bottomline? The new year must find folks with chronic conditions making resolutions around lowering blood pressure and/or blood sugar; reducing Body Mass Index (BMI); and maintaining a healthy daily calorie intake.
Vaccines: The recent Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 35 percent of Black Americans would probably or definitely not get the vaccine if it was determined to be safe by scientists and widely available for free. Washington Post columnist Michele Norris captured the essence of this phenomenon. “Vaccine hesitancy from Black Americans is different from an ‘anti-vaxxer’ stance. It’s not that Black Americans don’t believe in vaccines. They don’t trust a public health system that has in too many cases engaged in grievous harm by experimenting on Black bodies without consent or ignoring the specific needs of Black people.
What’s the solution for your resolution? Information is the best medicine. Add to your list a determination to improve your health literacy. Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions.
Do you have any questions related to the coronavirus vaccine? Do the vaccines protect against both severe and mild illness? Can the vaccines stop virus transmission? How long will the vaccines be protective? Most of us won’t have access to the vaccine anytime soon. Some of the “experts” are saying that by Memorial Day, end of June, any Americans who want a vaccine will have their hands on a vaccine.
Use the time wisely and find out all you can about vaccines. If improving your health literacy is one of your New Year’s resolutions, whatever you decide about taking the vaccine will not be based on fear and suspicion.
In closing, let me remind us that at the heart of our New Year’s resolutions should be ample opportunity on us to work on our humanity. We see suffering and hardship brought on by the pandemic, all around us. Almost overnight we’ve become more and more, a nation of have’s and have nots. There’s a lot of distress: If we can set goals that aim to help others, those kinds of goals will, in turn, also add to our own well-being. Think about the ways in which you can contribute to your family, your community, and to the world.
Glenn Ellis, MPH is a Visiting Scholar at The National Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University and a Harvard Medical School Fellow in Research Bioethics and Writing. He is author of Which Doctor? and Information is the Best Medicine. For more good health information visit: www.glennellis.com.