Don Frank Photography
As a young man years ago, I learned the power of language and words. My parents had a strict standard for what was acceptable and what wasn’t in our home and they made it clear that if we brought language that may have been common on the playground or on the basketball court home, there would be some consequence.
But there’s one word that wasn’t mentioned frequently in my home and not because it was a swear word: politician.
Politicians often get a bad rap and while some deserve it completely — with their seemingly never-ending trail of bureaucracy — there are many that actively seek to improve the lives of the constituents that they are elected to serve. And thus, we have a modern example: the Personal Health Investment Today Act.
The PHIT Act was recently introduced to give all Americans a tax incentive to get active, stay fit and improve their health. The bill would allow consumers to use money in pre-tax medical accounts to pay for physical activity expenses. We know that one of the barriers for individuals and families to exercise more is cost. The PHIT Act reduces that barrier to increased physical activity.
Perhaps even more important than that reduction of that cost barrier though is the messaging that this Act communicates to all people. That message is one that I’ve heard many times and goes back to the adage attributed to Benjamin Franklin that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
In our culture we need to face the fact that times have changed. Gone are the days where walking and biking were common modes of transportation. Television and other technology have expanded in their offerings and played a dramatic effect on all people, but particularly children. All the meanwhile participation in recreational sports for children is declining and the opportunities for recess and physical education time for kids has significantly diminished.
The results of those changes are staggering, in terms of overall public health. It is estimated that 80 percent of all heart disease, strokes and Type 2 diabetes along with more than 40 percent of cancers could be prevented if we eliminated the four key behavioral risk factors that fuel chronic diseases: physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, tobacco use and too much alcohol.
This has a profound impact on each and every one of us. The CDC estimates that chronic diseases will cost America $2 trillion in medical expenses and another $794 billion in lost employee productivity every year through 2030.
The PHIT Act demonstrates the understanding that prevention of health disease, particularly the diseases that are heavily afflicting our society in obesity and diabetes, is worth the investment. The World Health Organization equates an investment of $1 in activity leads to $3.20 in medical cost savings.
Written with strong bipartisan support, the bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow a medical care tax deduction for up to $1,000 (or $2,000 for families) for qualified sports and fitness expenses. These expenses would include memberships at recreation or fitness facilities (like the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District), youth and adult sport leagues, exercise classes, youth camps, running or other fitness events, martial arts, gymnastics and more!
This would be a change in the code but also a change in the philosophy of our culture. Currently, citizens can use pre-tax medical savings accounts for reimbursement of medical expenses after you become sick. But the PHIT Act addresses many of the reasons that Americans are spending billions of dollars in medical treatment: inactivity and lack of exercise and incentivizes those opportunities to get more active by providing tax savings for those expenses.
PHIT has already been supported by our state representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Suzanne Bonamici and it will continue to hopefully gain momentum as it heads to Congress.
There are opportunities to support this worthwhile act and I’m incredibly inspired by the development. It’s a great reminder to all of us as we all consider what we can do to become more active. That activity and any investment in time or resources made towards our own physical health will pay significant dividends down the road.
Skyler Archibald is the executive director for the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District.