Healthcare debate shouldn’t ignore chronic conditions

Published 5:17 pm Saturday, July 4, 2009

With more than half of all Americans suffering from chronic medical conditions, it is estimated that 75 percent of the US health care budget will be spent on diagnosing and treating these diseases.

To compound the problem, people suffering from chronic diseases are said to be dying younger. The American Diabetes Association reported that for the first time in history, children with diabetes have a shorter lifespan then their parents. This decline in life expectancy not only raises concern for approximately 47 million people who don’t have basic health coverage, but it sets in motion a more serious problem — namely our ability to survive.

It wasn’t that long ago when the leading causes of death were related to environmental factors (pneumonia/influenza, tuberculosis and infectious diarrhea). Today, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common cause of death is chronic disease (diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, cancer, COPD and others), and 80 of those can be traced back to our lifestyles, environment and culture.

Throughout history, lifestyles have been good predictors of health. Recent research by Dee W. Eddington, points out that with modest improvements in our health habits, we can yield a 24-percent reduction in healthcare cost. With major improvements in health habits, cost of care is reduced by more than 34 percent.

A follow-up study by the Trust for America’s Health supports the findings and says that implementing low-cost (preventative) health and wellness programs would spare millions of Americans from serious diseases and save the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

To demonstrate the value of prevention, consider for a moment the cost of treating diabetes or rehabilitating people who suffer from cardiovascular disease (both brought on by poor eating habits and living a sedentary lifestyle). Preventing these two diseases alone has the potential of saving thousands of dollars.

However, despite the savings produced by prevention, recent statistics from the health and fitness industry illustrate that we have our work cut out for us if we want to change the current culture.

Only one of every three adult exercises regularly, and one in four adults does not exercise at all.

Two of every three adults are overweight and 40 percent of adults spend the majority of the day sitting.

Eight out of 10 adults recognize the benefits of exercise, but only two of 10 exercises enough to meet physical activity guidelines.

Adults in the U.S. report watching TV an average of 2.2 hours per day and use a computer for 1.7 hours per day outside of working hours.

The data goes on to say that if the number of overweight adults in the U.S. continues to grow, nearly nine out of 10 adults will be considered overweight or obese by 2030.

The US government has talked about making health care more affordable and recently introduced a stimulus bill with $19 billion in funding towards updating the health care IT system.

Unfortunately, this offering does little to help prevent the leading cause of death in America — chronic disease.

Indeed, this is unfortunate, because according to the World Health Organization, Americans are currently ranked 28th in overall life expectancy and 37th in the world on overall health. At this rate, Americans will be hard-pressed to compete with other developed nations.

A preventative model of care supports the idea that people can become their own agents of change and reach better health outcomes. However, there is still a lot of work to be done by the government and the medical community. While advances in the diagnosis and treatment of illness are critical, we should work to prevent further damage to more than 130 million Americans suffering from a wide range of diseases.

With medical costs going up, it is no longer practical to be treating chronic disease with expensive medications or surgery.

There are no easy solutions to the growing health care crisis, but one thing has become evident. If people become more proactive about health and improve their current lifestyle, they will be more productive and make a contribution to society. In turn, this investment in prevention will not only result in an economic victory, but it will fulfill a moral imperative — allowing every American a chance to live a long and meaningful life.