A Father's Lesson

A Father's Lesson

As director of the U-M Health Management Research Center, Michael P. O’Donnell, PhD ’94, MBA, MPH, is dedicated to expanding the “health span”—as opposed to “life span”—of Americans, an achievement he believes could yield billions in savings for the country’s overburdened Medicare and Medicaid systems. O’Donnell’s primary aim is to reduce the onset of disability by addressing three factors that contribute more than any others to poor health outcomes: smok-ing, excess weight, and inactivity.

For over 30 years, O’Donnell, who is also a clinical professor in the U-M School of Kinesiology, has been working to do this by developing health-promotion programs in the workplace. “If employers can do a better job of reaching out not only to their employees but also to those employees’ families, we can make progress,” he says, adding that he’s a fan of the slogan “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

In a 2012 article, excerpted below, O’Donnell described how positive health practices allowed his father to remain “fully functional” until just one month before his death, at age 86:

“[My father] did what we all hope to do; he died young as late in life as possible. Why did he pass so fast? Why was his period of morbidity so short? Why was he so healthy and vital for so much of his life? Part of it was that he was at peace, emotionally and spiritually, with the situation. Part of it was genetic. Part of it was chance. But part of it, I think, was that he had made so many positive lifestyle changes in his midlife and was doing so many things to keep himself healthy in his later years.
“[…] If we can improve the health of the population through lifestyle change, we may be able to reduce the financial burden of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security and enhance the fiscal solvency of the nation. […] The savings from improving health may be as important in restoring the fiscal solvency of our nation as a robust economy, avoiding future wars, or reforming tax policy. Of course, maintaining the fiscal solvency of the nation is not the only important outcome of improved health. Enhanced sense of well-being and improved quality of life are equally valuable outcomes.”

Source: Michael P. O’Donnell. (2012) “Compression of Morbidity: A Personal, Research, and National Fiscal Solvency Perspective.” Editor’s Note. American Journal of Health Promotion 27(2):iv-vi.