JAN. 9, 2018


After hearing you speak at a UCSF convocation just a few years ago I wrote you a fan letter. In it I expressed my immense personal gratitude for all the great good that you and the Foundation render to the world at large. You have saved millions of lives.

But this appreciation is tempered by my recognition of the immensity that remains to be done. I have spent the entirety of my 70+ years in the medical arena. I have plowed many fields, but the one that I affiliate most intently with at this time is health illiteracy.

I write a regular column for Huffington Post. Several weeks ago I featured this concern in my posting. I ventured the suggestion that Steve Jobs did not actually die from the disease recorded on his death certificate, pancreatic cancer, but the actual cause of Steve’s death was health illiteracy. He was informed, but failed to act on the information that was provided. It is a supreme irony that this Maestro of communication succumbed to its failure. This dereliction is rampant.

History already records the extravagant technical gains that the past few decades have yielded. Imagine us being able to witness the first steps on the moon via live television. Yet this new power provided to the people has yielded but modest gains in life quality. Notably we still live too short and die too long. In my view health illiteracy is the number one

global killer. With much precision we know why we die. Also we know that most deaths are preventable, but with a few exceptions we wait for somebody else to solve this challenge. Obesity is my cause célèbre. It is responsible for millions of deaths, and the National Geographic coined the term “globesity”to reflect the universal conflagration.. Mexico has officially recognized that obesity is their top public health concern, their top epidemic. Harari in his recent book, Homo Deus, points out that Coca-Cola is a much more formidable global concern than terrorism.

Obesity is clearly preventable, but tragically we seek a surgical or pharmacologic answer. We cannot operate or give drugs for what is clearly a behavioral issue. I sometimes remark that operating on a fat person for obesity is like amputating the fingers of a smoker.

The pandemic of obesity is clearly complex, no quick and simple solutions will arise, but it is past time for active address, further procrastination is not an option.

I respectfully encourage you and the Foundation with your broad competency to take on the challenge of health illiteracy, ASAP!

Walter M Bortz MD. professor of medicine Stanford University School of Medicine

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