Scott Pelley shares his insights on the changing public culture of American health care.

Public consciousness of health and wellness in America has taken a dramatic leap forward since the turn of the century. Nobody’s had a better view of this evolution than Scott Pelley, an internationally acclaimed journalist and anchor of CBS Evening News and correspondent for 60 Minutes.

“It has become a major interest on the part of the American people,” Pelley says. “We went through a running craze. There weren’t gyms everywhere, but there are now. You didn’t used to find gyms in hotels; now every hotel has one. Conversely, we have an obesity crisis and a diabetes crisis, and I think part of the reason for that is people don’t realize what they’re eating. We need to do a much better job in journalism of educating people about what’s in the food they are eating.”

The 59-year-old journalist has been at the forefront of some of the biggest stories in America for the last 30 years, including presidential elections, international wars, the economy and more. Pelley’s distinguished body of work has been honored with nearly every award in journalism, including more than 30 Emmy Awards, numerous Edward R. Murrow awards and four George
Foster Peabody awards. He’s covered over 300 stories for 60 Minutes, and this November, Pelley will be presented with the 2016 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism. The acclaimed journalist began his career at the age of 15 as a copyboy for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, and in all of his efforts he strives to bring truth and balance to his reporting.

“My values in reporting are very simple; I really sum it up into three words: Is it right, is it fair, is it honest in terms of the gathering of information and the presentation of that information,” Pelley says. “That’s a very simple rule, but it’s very hard to do.”

The media’s role

The media plays an important role in the national discussion of health topics, and there is still work to be done, Pelley says.

“It’s so important that people in journalism help educate the American people about food science, nutrition and exercise,” Pelley believes. “I think journalism can do a much better job educating people about the science of nutrition.”

Determining what is and isn’t relevant to cover requires an ever-changing view and understanding of public interests. Pelley has seen this shift first-hand when it comes to coverage of health care topics.

“Health has become more and more important to the audience,” Pelley states. “I think it’s an important national priority. We have a medical unit and a senior medical correspondent in
our office every day pitching ideas about the ways people can improve their own health to keep themselves out of the doctors’ office. We put them on the air as fast as we can.”

Personal health

Covering national and global news requires discussing tough topics and being present in challenging situations. Researching and reporting heavy subjects isn’t always fun or easy, and it can take a real toll on a journalist’s physical and mental wellness.

“I was at the World Trade Center when the towers collapsed, so that was certainly the most difficult story I ever covered, just in terms of witnessing those events, the enormity of those events, and also a very personal challenge of being down there, as so many people were, and having that be a lingering memory,” Pelley recalls. “We in journalism don’t address mental health as well as we should. We make a career out of going to every cataclysmic event. I think it’s very important to encourage reporters, producers and cameramen to seek counseling. Over the years, this kind of stuff can build up into kind of a reporter’s PTSD.”

Pelley prioritizes keeping his personal, mental and physical health sharp to help him do his job more effectively.

“Health and fitness is a bit of a hobby of mine,” Pelley says. “I once had a national editor at CBS in New York give me advice about life on the road. He said ‘Go to the gym, not the bar.’ To this day, I’m in the gym every day, except one — I take one day off a week — and I’m very careful about my diet. I have a low-carb diet. I don’t eat bread, rice, pasta, potatoes or tropical fruits. I keep away from the sugar or sweets. I keep a very close eye on my hemoglobin A1c, the level of sugar in one’s blood; I keep that very low. I do weightlifting, and I run about 21 miles a week.”

With so much time spent on the road and abroad covering stories, Pelley has strategies that he’s developed to establish and keep a healthy routine while on the go.

“Don’t vacation from your home workout routine,” Pelley advises. “Take that routine with you wherever you go. I don’t eat ‘meals.’ I nibble all day on things like raw carrots and hummus, dried apricots, raw unsalted cashews, nonfat Greek yogurt, and proteins — fish, chicken, that sort of thing.”

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A global view of giving

Having seen the world from many perspectives, Pelley has developed a unique passion for helping others. He currently serves as an Overseer of the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit refugee relief agency focused on helping rebuild the lives of people across the world that have been affected by conflicts and disasters.

“I think in order to live a happy life, you have to be part of something bigger than yourself,” Pelley believes. “Pretty soon, your small concerns all go away. I think Americans are really the most generous people in the world. They volunteer for their churches, their synagogues, their mosques, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and all kinds of organizations, and in doing so, they make the world and their communities a better place. There is no feeling as satisfying as that.”

While interacting with people who have been adversely affected by disasters or you have to be part of something bigger than yourself” traumatic situations, Pelley reminds them to keep a focus on a broader perspective.

“I find that I can never feel down if I’m completely in touch with the gratitude that I should have
for all the things and all the people around me,” Pelley says. “Many people are living in very difficult circumstances with their families, the health of their families, their own health, and yet
I think there’s always something to be grateful for. Gratitude takes away pride; it takes away competition. It allows you to feel your very best. If I’m feeling that I’ve been wronged or something is going wrong in my life, I always stop and say ‘Hey, wait a minute, what do you have to be grateful for?’ I’ve got a sign on my desk here in New York — it’s a bright red sign with one word written on it in all caps: GRATITUDE.”

Whether at work, at home or on the other side of the globe, Pelley’s philosophy in life boils down to a simple concept.

“You really have to take care of your health first,” Pelley says. “Everything else will suffer if your health is suffering. If you care about your family, you care about your career, you care about your hobbies and things you want to do…take care of your health first. You can’t just flip a switch and have the attitude of gratitude or decide that health will be a priority for you. It’s a habit you have to develop over time. But once it becomes a habit, it becomes a very easy and comfortable way to live.”

Jodi Marsh is Executive Editor for Healthy Living Made Simple.

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