Monday, April 27, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Chronic Disease and Health Care Reform

We know health care reform is high on the Obama administration agenda, and we hear a lot about ways to make coverage fair and affordable and how the stimulus bill with $19 billion in funding for health IT will update our outdated health system. We hear less about how we will change the way America addresses the leading cause of death and the major cause of rising health care costs—chronic disease—something almost all of us have the ability to do something about for ourselves, and therefore for all of us.

The health consequences of overweight, obesity and physical inactivity present challenges to all individuals and organizations by increasing overall health care costs and by making health coverage less affordable. This is particularly evident when we calculate the impact of obesity on the direct and indirect costs of mostly preventable and expensive to treat chronic conditions.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are responsible for seven out of 10 deaths and 75 percent of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care in the United States each year. More than 130 million Americans today have a chronic disease, many of which could either be effectively prevented or minimized by making better nutritional choices, becoming more physically active and smoking cessation. In the last 30 years, as a percent of Gross national Product (GPD), health care spending has doubled, from 8 percent to 16 percent. Health care spending is now 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.

If we don’t first tackle the true cost driver in the system, chronic disease, we won’t get very far in alleviating health care costs.

The good news is that we find most of us will make the modest-but-meaningful changes in our vital wellness behaviors that can significantly reduce our risk for preventable chronic disease—so long as we believe we have a realistic expectation of success.

Wellness is not an option if we are to effectively reduce health care costs. Agree? Disagree? Ready to act?

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