Discussing lifestyle changes in healthcare journals is not new. For years, practitioners have touted the value of making simple, daily adjustments to enhance one’s personal quality of life and longevity. Even the healthcare industry is starting to value how positive daily life improvements can help prevent disease, which––in turn––will reduce our rising healthcare costs.

An individual’s lifestyle choices impact all disciplines in healthcare, including eye care. Sometimes, a patient may visit us for routine care, but we see that they are in serious need of a lifestyle change. By recommending improvements to one’s daily routine, our contact lens wearers may be able to increase lens comfort and improve safety and efficacy, while simultaneously addressing modifiable risk factors for disease. Smoking cessation, losing weight through increased exercise, healthier eating and reducing stress are just a few examples of changes to incorporate into an everyday routine that can pay off monumentally.

A Case in Point
Research indicates that obesity alone is responsible for 20% of cancer diagnoses today.1 If individuals could maintain a BMI between 21kg/m2 to 23kg/m2, the incidence of cancer could be reduced by approximately 50% in two to 20 years. Furthermore, lack of exercise and a poor diet are each estimated to be associated with 5% of all cancers. Fifty percent of these cases likely could be avoided if at-risk patients simply improved their diets.1 Additionally, increased physical activity levels could dramatically curtail cancer incidence by as much as 85% in five to 20 years, according to Graham Colditz, M.D., Dr.P.H., from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.1

Perhaps you are thinking that this cancer discussion has little to no relevance to eye care. But remember, with our new electronic health records and “meaningful use” requirements, we are now mandated to ask our patients about certain lifestyle behaviors—including smoking.

Also, the aforementioned research pinpointed that one-third of cancer cases in high-income countries is indeed caused by smoking.1 If smoking rates throughout the United States could be reduced to the current 11% level found in Utah, for example, we could see a 75% reduction in smoking-related cancers in as little as 10 to 20 years.1 Other proactive lifestyle routines include screenings and use of daily aspirin, vaccinations, vitamin and medicinal regimens, preventive surgery and weight loss.

What resonates the most, however, is Dr. Coldtiz’s conclusion that we have more scientific data on the impact of a healthy lifestyle today than ever before, yet we struggle to effectively convey that message to our patients.

As eye care practitioners, we often wonder whether asking questions about a patient’s lifestyle during an exam is warranted. I believe Dr. Colditz’s research stresses that any discussion we may have to encourage or teach a patient about healthier lifestyle choices will indeed pay dividends. Keep in mind, though, that often the patient who would benefit the most from positive lifestyle changes is the one most reluctant to make the necessary adjustments.2

Continue to educate, monitor behavior and reinforce your recommendations at every exam. I challenge all eye care practitioners––myself included––to do our part to enhance longevity, improve quality of life and reduce increasing costs on our healthcare system. And while we’re at it, let’s be sure to follow our own advice and lead by example. 

1. Harrison P. Lifestyle changes could prevent 50% of common cancers. Presented at the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) World Cancer Congress meeting, August 27-30, 2012; Montreal, Canada.
2. Ulene V. Why are unhealthy people so reluctant to change their life? LA Times. 2011 May 23. Available at: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/may/23/health/la-he-the-md-change-illness-20110523. Accessed September 2012.