By: Dr George Heuser
As modern healthcare has improved the treatment of infectious diseases and traumatic injuries, people are living longer and suffering less from devastating diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, polio and even HIV/AIDS.
While this is good news, chronic diseases are now the major cause of death and disability worldwide. According to the U.S. Department of State, 70 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are caused by chronic diseases such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cancer and heart disease, and by 2020, the same will be the case worldwide.
These diseases place a huge burden on families, the communities and the overall economy as the cost of healthcare continues to rise. The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, a national non-profit health coalition, says that treating patients with chronic diseases accounts for 75 percent of the nation’s healthcare spending, and two-thirds of the increase in healthcare spending is due to the increase in treating chronic disease. Ultimately, the cost of healthcare is passed on to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums, more expensive goods and services, and higher taxes.
Chronic disease is extremely prevalent. Nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease, reports the coalition. These diseases are often lifelong conditions, affecting the quality of life of the individual and their family.
While the cause of some chronic diseases are genetic or due to environmental causes, the majority can be prevented or better managed. For example, according to Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal of health policy thought and research, obesity doubled between 1987 and 2001, accounting for 20-30 percent of the rise in healthcare spending, primarily due to the epidemic rise in diabetes. Unless Americans change their diet and exercise habits, the American Diabetes Association predicts that one in three babies born today will develop diabetes in their lifetime.
According to the Milken Institute, modest reductions in unhealthy behaviors could prevent or delay 40 million cases of chronic illness per year. Not only would that result in reduced healthcare costs and improved workplace productivity, but also would increase quality of life.
The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease says reducing the risk of chronic disease means adopting prevention behaviors including:
Reducing or eliminating risk factors by eating healthy, getting exercise, eliminating unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use, and obtaining all recommended vaccines.
Getting regular check-ups and screenings so that disease is diagnosed at its earliest stage to stop progression.
Managing disease to avoid complications and progression by following treatment recommendations.
Following these behaviors can’t eliminate the possibility of a chronic disease, but will go far in keeping us healthy. If we remember that health is an asset that provides great benefits, we will make it a priority and treat it with the utmost importance.
George Heuser is Vice President and Senior Medical Director at Optima Health.
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