Former President Bill Clinton today called on attendees at a La Quinta health conference to work together to help others live healthier lives.
"It's good to have the right government policies, but there are things that we can do together that will make a difference," Clinton said.
Clinton gave opening remarks at his foundation's second annual "Health Matters" conference at La Quinta Resort & Club. The conference is spotlighting the foundation's new Health Matters Initiative and coincides with the Humana Challenge golf tournament, which the foundation is also sponsoring.
Clinton, who is also giving closing remarks this evening, told the audience today that the United States spends more than 17 percent of its gross domestic product on health care.
"We know that some of these costs, for example, are the direct result of our excess rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes," he said. "... We cannot ignore the link between health and the economy, and it runs both ways."
He cited an article about life expectancy rising for people in all demographics in the U.S. except for white people who don't graduate from high school. Factors such as an increase in smoking, obesity and use of prescription drugs contribute to lower life expectancy for people in that category, he said.
"I believe that it's another way of saying a lot of these people are dying young of a broken heart because of the devastating effects of the economic trends of the last 11 years or so on them. But we have to face the fact that this is happening and that this is part of what we need to do.
"These people are part of our country, they could be making massive contributions to our economy. They are parents, their children need them to live long and healthy lives. This work we can do, whether we're doctors and nurses and medial researchers, heath care providers or just people," he said.
In September, the New York Times ran a story about the decreasing life expectancy for the least-educated white Americans. According to the article, the lives of this group of people have, on average, been cut short by four years since 1990.
Conversely, educated Americans are living longer, the article finds.
In Riverside County, the percentage of people 25 and older who've earned a Bachelor's Degree or higher is nearly 10 percent below the state average, according to the latest U.S. Census data. And a report from the American Human Development Project of the Social Science Research Council finds life expectancy in the San Bernardino-Riverside metro area to be below the state average.
The conference in La Quinta is expected to draw more than 400 people in health care, public policy, business, education, wellness and sports "to identify strategies to promote and improve individual healthy lifestyles in the home, the community, and the workplace," according to a foundation statement.
The foundation launched the Clinton Health Matters Initiative in November, building on its first "Health Matters" conference last January in Indian Wells.
Through the initiative, foundation members will work with Coachella Valley groups to "close gaps in health disparities, and to improve well-being locally," according to a foundation statement. The initiative also will work for global health and against childhood obesity.
For a complete conference schedule, go to www.clintonfoundation.org. --City News Service and Toni McAllister contributed to this report.