Many small choices can lead to big progress in our health, says Munson Healthcare CEO Ed Ness.

Choose to be well … The phrase conveys a simple but powerful notion, reminding us that in the moment-by-moment flow of our days, we are presented with countless small but important decisions about our health. Donut or apple? Elevator or stairs? Park the car close to, or far from, the store? Second helping or no?

People in Northern Michigan will see much more of that “Choose to be well” phrase in coming months because Munson Healthcare has embraced it as a way to help improve the health of people throughout the region. We asked Munson Healthcare CEO Ed Ness to share thoughts on why Choose to Be Well is an idea that can shape a healthy future for each of us.

Ed Ness

Where did the idea for Choose to Be Well come from?

About a year ago the Munson Healthcare board adopted a driving strategy to improve the health of Northern Michigan’s population. It was the first time that, as part of the system’s strategic plan, we specifically included the health of the population as a priority at the board level. Historically, hospitals have done a good job of taking care of people when they are sick. But more and more, there’s a shift to make sure the broader population we serve is healthier.

What led the board to focus on helping people achieve a healthy weight?

Each community in our system does a needs assessment that takes a look at health priorities for the people in their service area. Number one or two on every community’s list was obesity or obesity-related conditions. We decided as a system to take that on as a priority. We split that effort into three different facets: community, our own employees, and healthcare providers.

Some healthy weight efforts are already underway. How does this add?

Part of it is to simply put the message out to the community that improving health doesn’t happen in one big step, but in a series of small choices we make every day. What we eat. Level of activity. But also, we wanted to create an umbrella that all the many weight-loss efforts fit under. So you will be seeing “Choose to Be Well” as a common brand for those.

So, Choose to Be Well’s power is in its ability to unite and give momentum to these many healthy weight initiatives?

Yes. Improving the health of a population is not only hard to do, but also it’s a thing that the hospital cannot do on its own. It will take a partnership of healthcare providers, community groups, physicians, businesses, and more to really work together because each of us has one piece of the puzzle. It is a broad cultural shift we are talking about and that is why it will take the community working together.

Give us one great example, something a team has done that is really effective and that is easy for other people or other organizations to do, too.

Ok, well, in the Munson Medical Center Cafe we now have a stoplight system that indicates the nutritional value of each food item. So, green light indicates great, healthy food. Yellow light means that these foods should be eaten less often because they are higher in calories, fat, or sugar. And red light encourages patrons to stop and consider a green or yellow option because red items contain very little nutritional value. We have already seen a shift in the healthy choices people make. It’s been gratifying to see that if you give good information to people, it can lead to healthy choices. That’s what “Choose to Be Well” means in the real world, in our daily lives.

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