Recently, the rumor about a provisional plan for the regulation of meokbang became a matter of controversy. As a video in which the host eats food, often in an immense amount, meokbang was suspected by the public to be the target of the obesity regulation of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW). But with the authorities disapproving it in person, the controversy ended. However, such a scene indicated that the government is paying careful attention to the contemporary ailments of citizens. With this concern, new health policies to cope with prevalent disorders were developed to be implemented in the second half of this year.
“Unlike infectious diseases, most chronic diseases result from the complex interaction of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors,” said Professor Oh Hannah (Department of Health Policy and Management). No one would deny the fact that current living conditions are likely to heighten the risk of chronic diseases. Many are exposed to mental and physical dangers owing to the modern lifestyle of long hours at a sedentary job and irregular or unbalanced meals. What further leads to mounting chronic diseases is the inevitable fact that the population is aging at an unprecedented speed.
According to the National Health Insurance Statistical Yearbook in 2016, the number of patients with the twelve major chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes was around 16,790,000, a remarkable figure which amounts to 33.1 percent of the population. In this situation, “the government needs to exert itself for the improvement in social and physical environments such as enhancing access to healthy foods and healthcare services,” as Professor Oh emphasized. Currently, the authorities are developing new policies to fight against these diseases.
Medical Experts Visiting Homes
Seoul is going to establish a healthcare service that reaches out to patients starting from October in Seongdong, Nowon, Eunpyeong and Gwanak Public Health Centers. There, healthcare teams which consist of local doctors, pharmacists, and medical experts of various clinical fields will be formed to visit citizens who are at a high risk of diseases. In order to accomplish such an important objective, they have been participating in a professional competency building program with the cooperation of the Korean Geriatrics Society and Korean Diabetes Association.
The service mainly targets the disadvantaged including those receiving the outreach care of the community service center which was launched in 2015 in Seoul to eliminate the blind spots of welfare policies. Although the purposes of the two outreach services are similar, the former did not cooperate with nurses and welfare planners who can provide sufficient medical treatments directly. The healthcare service that reaches out to patients in 2018 fills the shortage of the medical team with its specialty in medical care.
Notably, the service consists of three steps. The first step of the healthcare service is assessing one’s health by filling out a survey and conducting medical checkups. Those at high risk of illnesses such as malnutrition, depression, and dementia become the subjects of the service. The healthcare team carries out the second step, which is planning custom-built care for three months. For patients with chronic diseases, the team helps to prevent complications and to take medicine properly. Furthermore, education about lifestyles and oral care can be provided for up to ten days, while rehabilitation programs and nutrition management are offered once a week.
Connecting the participants with the existing healthcare organizations is the third step to strengthen the service. The cooperators include clinics participating in the Seoul resident health point system, which gives points to patients for their continuous treatment of chronic diseases in local clinics. Institutions for dementia are also partners. For example, Seongdong Dementia Center is expected to offer organized care service because it has already made a business agreement on June 27 with Seongdong Pharmaceutical Association to operate dementia safety drugstores. Following the three months of healthcare service is the final step of rechecking the subjects and deciding future care plans.
Obesity, Now a Malady of Society
While the outreach healthcare service mainly focuses on treating those who need it, the comprehensive plan for obesity management is one of the policies for prevention of illnesses. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimated that the ratio of extreme obesity in Korea would be nine percent, which is far higher than the ratio of five percent in 2015. Causing the increase in blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and blood sugar, obesity is one of the critical risk factors of chronic diseases. Therefore, political measures are required to reduce obesity prevalence and boost a healthier Korea.
Thus, MOHW announced the comprehensive plan on July 24. It deals with the disease in four categories as follows: dietary habits, infrastructure for physical activity, clinics, and scientific data. Most of the subordinate projects will mainly focus on expanding the existing systems. For example, the outstanding programs of Health Promoting Schools that the Ministry of Education (MOE) established in 2011 will be applied to other schools nationwide. The Individual Health Bankbook that converts one’s physical activities to usable points is one of the candidates.
In addition, the new web system is anticipated to be more methodical and convenient. It is going to be built to provide the information about obesity which is categorized according to the districts, eup, myeon or dong, so that the local governments can pursue customized projects. Hopefully, in-depth insights into the status of the residents will be capable with the provided obesity rates, analyses of the factors and medical expenses. In consequence, suitable programs can be developed and the government is going to support the budget.
▲ Professor Oh Hannah. PROVIDED BY PROFESSOR OH HANNAH
Promoting these policies, the government is trying to fit its role to care for the population’s welfare. Considering that contemporary illnesses are deeply rooted in society, it is significant that the government started to perceive them as a serious adversity of society and call for the various members to join the war for the well-being of the nation. However, one may point out that they are not complete and that they might fizzle out. Now it is the citizens who will have to actively try out the new policies and give feedback for further improvements.