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Renowned physician urges Legislature to implement state wellness programs
Author: Cleaves M. Bennett MD FACP
Monday, January 07, 2008

AUSTIN - Dr. Cleaves M. Bennett, a renowned author and advocate for healthy lifestyles, is bringing a unique perspective to health care discussions at the state Capitol this legislative session. Through meeting with lawmakers and testifying before House and Senate committees, Dr. Bennett is urging the Legislature to create state wellness programs that would promote healthy lifestyles while reducing health care costs.

Dr. Bennett, 72, is the author of “In 12 Weeks You Can Control Your High Blood Pressure Without Drugs” and more than 100 scientific studies, reviews, book chapters and abstracts in the fields of Internal Medicine, Nephrology, Kidney Physiology and Preventive and Lifestyle medicine. Dr. Bennett is voicing his support for wellness-related bills authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and state Reps. Dianne White Delisi (R-Temple) and Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs). Such bills would implement incentives to encourage Medicaid recipients to engage in healthy behaviors, establish a Worksite Wellness Advisory Board and implement worksite wellness policies at state agencies. While wellness programs are a good idea, Dr. Bennett said they are not well thought out yet because there is little evidence showing they are producing lasting results that bring down health care costs in large numbers of people.

“It is difficult to get people to attend to actually make permanent changes in the diet and lifestyle that truly make a difference,” said Dr. Bennett, who has many years of experience in promoting wellness. “That is why we have a health care crisis in America and indeed in many other parts of the world.”

Dr. Bennett said help is needed to implement wellness programs for employees of the state of Texas and for the Medicaid population. Dr. Bennett suggests forming a partnership with the food industry that would promote healthy eating by giving tax breaks to grocery stores and restaurants that serve and promote “heart healthy” meals. He said a partnership with drug companies would also make a difference in promoting wellness.

“In a sense, these are two gigantic influential industries that might be opposed to large numbers of people eating healthier, exercising regularly, losing weight and learning to relax more often, so as to reduce their total dependence on multiple prescription medicines,” Dr. Bennett said. “But in fact, drug companies have everything to gain from helping the doctors to promote wellness. To the extent that patients eat healthier and exercise, that makes their drugs work a lot better. No industry has more effective marketing than Big Pharma. No industry has deeper pockets. And like Big Oil, they also need an image transplant.”

A 1960 graduate with honors from the University of Rochester in New York, Dr. Bennett walked away from a career in high technology, pharmaceutical dependent expensive sickness care to seek a different way, one that focused much more on prevention. In 1978 he teamed up with Nathan Pritikin, who espoused diet and exercise to ward off cardiovascular disease, to serve as Medical Director of the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

Dr. Bennett followed Pritikin’s diet plan, which limits chicken to once a week, red meat to once a month, and relies on fish, vegetables and whole grains. He quit smoking, changed his diet, dropped his cholesterol 100 points and ran 2 marathons when he turned 50. Dr. Bennett found, however, the Pritikin program’s high costs proved prohibitive to many people. He later created a more accessible program called “The Inner Health Center” where he witnessed hundreds of people improve their fitness levels, modify and change their diet and drop their blood pressure without taking medication.

This action prompted Dr. Bennett to write “In 12 Weeks You Can Control Your High Blood Pressure Without Drugs,” which was published by Doubleday Books in July 1984, along with a companion “Control Your High Blood Pressure Cookbook.” His book was recently republished and is currently a top seller at Amazon.com on the subject of high blood pressure.

His concerns over the prevalence of childhood obesity and precarious health care system prompted him to create the non-profit organization, “No More Medicines,” which will develop various programs aimed at schools and other communities to educate and empower people of all ages to eat healthier and exercise to deal with the root causes of cardiovascular disease rather than its symptoms.

In addition to Dr. Bennett’s advances in preventive and lifestyle medicine, he was also a pioneer in some of today’s medical procedures. While a resident at UCLA Medical Center during the 1960s, he initiated the first successful closed chest cardiac massage - also known as CPR - in California. As a resident at the Bronx Municipal Hospital he started the first kidney dialysis ever done in New York City. For the past 22 years, he has served as a Clinical Professor of Medicine for Harbor/UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.

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