Why our Union is not healthier and how we can do better

Union members and other participants in the Pension, Hospitalization and Benefit Plan (PHBP) should be much healthier than average, but they are actually worse off.

Generally our population is well educated, has decent standards of living, is covered by very good health insurance, has free access to JIB Medical and has a close social community, all things that ordinarily promote good health.

Despite that, our participants have more cancer and heart disease than average. We have way too many heart attacks, strokes and lung cancers, all preventable to a remarkable degree.

Why are we not doing better?

The reasons are simple: poor eating habits, inactivity, smoking, excess stress, drinking too much and abusing opiate medicines, all of which our PHBP community does more than average.

Not only does this bring tragedy to ourselves, our families and our co-workers, it drains PHBP of hard-earned funds contributed by workers and employers, money that could be used to fight those diseases that are not preventable and to fund retirements.

How can we do better?

  • Smoking: If you smoke anything, become a non-smoker again. If you don’t, never start.
  • Alcohol: If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (no more than one drink a day).
    • If you are going to drive a vehicle or operate dangerous machinery, do not drink anything (one drink can affect you more than you realize, even if you can ‘hold your alcohol’). The person you kill could be a mother and her baby crossing the street or a friend and co-worker working beside you.
    • Eating: Teach yourself to enjoy foods that make you healthy rather than ones that make you sick.
      • Keep your belly and waistline trim (that’s where the worst fat is).
      • Activity: Be active every day. Avoid sitting for long periods.
      • Sleep: Get a good night’s sleep (7 to 8 hours whenever possible).
      • Stress: Learn to choose anger and anxiety much less often.
      • Painkillers: Avoid opiate pain medicines as much as possible. Construction work is hard and hard on bodies, causing many to suffer pain. Sadly, for too many, the pain medicines become a worse problem than the pain.
        • There are new ways to help control pain without them.
        • If you do use opiates and can’t stop, get help ASAP.
        • If you are not yet addicted, plan how you can get off them ASAP.
        • Even worse, increasingly young people are turning to opiates and heroin for other reasons.

If we know what to do, why isn’t everyone living more healthfully?

There are many answers, almost as many as there are people. 

  1. We are all human: None of us is perfect and we live complex, high-stress 21st Century lives.
    1. We are partly governed by instincts and emotion instead of acting logically for our own best interests.
    2. We are social beings: We tend to do what our community, friends and family are doing, sometimes referred to as the culture of a community. If you walk into a room and everyone is drinking and you do not, you tend to feel out of it. If no one else is drinking, you might feel funny being the only one ordering a drink. The same thing is true for all the rest of our behavior.
    3. There are many other ways we act “Predictably Irrational”, as psychologist Dan Ariely termed it.
    4. d.     That is human nature, but it does not have to rule your life. You can teach yourself to overcome harmful and counterproductive instincts.
    5. Too often we use mind-altering substances to solve problems, a poor choice: Alcohol, and drugs are often used to ‘self-medicate’, to help deal with anxiety, stress, depression, social shyness and anger. Some people overeat for the same reasons.

How can we do better?

  1. Learn: The first step is to learn all you can about the habits that are causing you problems.
  2. Take charge of your life: The next step is to decide for yourself what is most important to you. You are the absolute ruler of the Kingdom of You and the world’s expert on you. 
  3. Ask for help: None of us can see everything about ourselves, just as you would need a mirror or someone else to tell you if there is anything on your forehead, so it is good to get feedback and suggestions from people you trust and from your doctor.
  4. Make your decision: Then you, and only you, need to decide what you want to do, what is really important to you (not what you ‘should’, ‘ought to’, ‘have to’ or ‘wish to’, but what you really, truly want for yourself).
  5. Recognize that you do not have to conform to what everyone else is doing if it is not right for you.
  6. Love yourself: If you decide to love yourself enough to overcome harmful habits, then we are here to help if you would like us to.
  7. Make use of our stress reduction program: Learn to help cope with stress and problems in a positive and drug-free way.
  8. Think about how we can all work together to make our community culture a healthier one. That would be much better for you and for all the people you care about.

We are here to help

Our Wellness programs and JIB Medical are here and eager to help you in any way we can.

  • Information you need: We have all the accurate and meaningful information you could ever want (so much of what you read and hear in the media, from well-meaning friends and from the Internet is very, very wrong).
  • Preventing heart disease: We have our special program, The CardioPrevention Program (CPP), to help prevent heart disease.
  • Smoking: We can help you become a non-smoker.
  • Learning healthy ways: Our doctors, dieticians, website and Wellness Workshops can help you learn to enjoy a healthy way of life.
  • Stress reduction: We have a terrific program, Strike Out Stress (SOS), to help you understand, cope with and reduce stress in your life.
  • Primary medical care: JIB Medical is expanding and enhancing its already excellent prevention and treatment programs.
  • Substance abuse: The Members Assistance Program (MAP) is ready any time to help you learn to control alcohol, opiate and other drug problems. 
  • Website: wellness.jibei.org. Full of great information, recipes, videos and pictures of your friends enjoying programs.

Local 3 has a great new Family Wellness Club. Please look into it and consider joining.

We can all work together to do better! We want to hear from you.

We are eager to hear from anyone and everyone with more ideas about how we can change the culture of our community to one that values health for ourselves and our community.

Please let me or Judy Blades, our Wellness Coordinator, know your thoughts and ideas, or ask for information about any of our programs. Email us at wellness@jibei.com or call us at 718-591-2000, ext. 1408.

If we all work together to develop ways to be a healthy community that avoids harmful substances, just think how our children will learn to live better lives as well.