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'Vital Investment' for Medical Tourism Industry


Evolving societies in the last century often measured their economic success based on social and intellectual skills rather than physical activity. Diets have dramatically changed, too. Just a few years ago, children in China had no idea of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Now, for many, fast-food is their favorite meal.

The problem is, too many people spend most of the day sitting in front of a computer, snacking on food like fried chicken and burgers. We used to be physically active, performing manual labor and actually gathered ingredients to make our own meals.

Diseases of Our Time

But, because of major societal changes, we face epidemics, or what we at Pritikin Programs call the “Diseases of our Time.” These health disorders are not new; however, they were nowhere near the magnitude they exist today. Diseases of our Time include:

• Overweight/Obesity

• Diabetes

• Hypertension

• Coronary Artery Heart Disease

• Stroke

• Cancer

According to a World Health Organization report:

• Worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980;

• Fully 65 percent of the world’s population reside in countries where over weight conditions or obesity kills more than malnutrition;

• In 2012, more than 40 million children under the age of 5 were over weight or obese;

• Diabetes ails 171 million people, a number expected to increase to 366 million by the year 2030; • Each year, 17 million people die of cardiovascular-related diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes.

Largely Preventable

The good news is that scientists world-wide agree these Diseases of our Time are largely preventable. A World Health Organization report, titled “Preventing Chronic Disease: A Vital Investment,” stated that by changing modifiable risk factors, at least 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes could be prevented; more than 40 percent for cancers.

The bad news is that many healthcare systems including that of the United States have not reacted to what science says.

Most healthcare systems still focus, unfortunately, on waiting until diseases happen and then attempting to “fix” them — often with limited success – rather than establishing programs aimed at preventing them. The amount of healthcare dollars spent in the United States on healthy lifestyle education is a tiny fraction of the dollars spent on angioplasties, bypass surgeries and convalescent care for congestive heart failure.

Medical Tourism Opportunity

Chronic disease offers a huge opportunity for the medical tourism industry. Many people want preventive care and healthy lifestyle education. Health is a concern, and they want to take action. Of some 14,000 Americans surveyed, 92 percent were either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about their health.

Medical tourism, then, has an opportunity to bridge this gap between what people want — a healthier life that reduces procedures or operations — and what conventional medical systems offer.

In 2011, Medicare made a pioneering move, pivoting away from a traditional focus on conventional medicine, such as drugs and hospital stays, and began to pay for employee nutrition and exercise programs for those at-risk of cardiovascular events. This coverage is part of a new Medicare initiative, called Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation.

The response has been tremendous. At our flagship health resort, the Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, in Miami, visitors take a proactive approach to heart disease and cardiac rehabilitation. We constantly hear from guests, “I need to learn how to prevent a heart attack, so I figured I’d come to your health resort because why not enjoy myself at the same time?”

Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation

Establishing a wellness- and medically-focused experience in a resort setting offers many benefits including:

• Access to a large and growing market;

• Development of a “point of difference” market segment;

• Opportunity for increased revenue through specialized programs;

• Boosting a resort’s guest-focused image.

Pritikin Intensive Cardiac Rehab Programs operate in both residential and outpatient settings.

Medicare approval allows licensed locations to offer the Pritikin ICR Program. Physicians and/or hospital administrators interested in licensing Pritikin ICR outpatient programs may call Tyler Holman, 800.677.0257, for eligibility requirements, or visit

As president, I am grateful that our program has Medicare approval. Equally gratifying is our involvement with a program that promotes how to teach healthy living skills.

In the past four decades, our nationally recognized physicians, dietitians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, and chefs have worked with more than 100,000 visitors to the Pritikin Longevity Center, where faculty learn precisely what motivates them to make healthy lifestyle changes and what is needed to sustain them.

As part of the training, ICR staff travel to the Pritikin Longevity Center to learn from expert faculty. They return with healthy living skills that translate into life-changing experiences for people in our outpatient ICR programs.

Similar to traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs, Pritikin ICR focuses on exercise. But we also provide comprehensive education in the key skills that foster healthy lifestyles.


Participants in Pritikin ICR learn how to:

• Cook heart-healthy meals that are delicious and affordable;

• Become smart grocery shoppers;

• Order intelligently in restaurants;

• Lose weight utilizing science-based skills;

• Quit smoking;

• Manage stress;

• Improve personal and professional relationships;

• Transform negative attitudes into positive ones.

Pritikin ICR education is, in effect, exactly what the World Health Organization had in mind. A “vital investment” can prevent at least 80 percent of cardiovascular-related diseases and, in the meantime, save millions of lives annually.

In the medical tourism industry, we have the opportunity to develop these “vital investments”; prevention-focused programs that hold the greatest promise in helping relieve both the personal and economic burden of The Diseases of our Time and, very likely, the great promise of improving our own bottom lines.

About the Author

Bob Franceschelli is president of Pritikin, a company that delivers comprehensive medically -driven programs in resort and ambulatory settings. Pritikin’s books have been national bestsellers, and the efficacy of the Pritikin Program has been the subject of 109 studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Archives of Internal Medicine, JAMA and Circulation.

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