There is no doubt that we have developed better and more effective ways to treat illness. Unfortunately, we’ve made little or no progress with the far greater challenge of implementing and effectively preventing disease.
A recent estimate by a healthcare think tank estimates that 75% of health-care costs are incurred by illnesses that are preventable by lifestyle changes. The health institute explored the major causes and expenses incurred by various diseases that represent the majority of our healthcare expenditures:
- SMOKING: Smoking-caused diseases include lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease resulting in over 400,000 deaths a year and with millions more struggling with associated lung and heart disease.
- OBESITY: Obesity is a growing problem in America with estimates ranging from 20-40% of adult Americans having this issue. Obesity has been clearly linked to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Diabetes is growing at a very rapid rate throughout our country and much of this is related to diet and obesity. Diabetic-related illnesses including heart and vascular diseases, kidney failure resulting in dialysis and death as well as blindness and other infirmaries represent an enormous burden on our healthcare system.
- ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE: Alcohol and drug abuse represent the substantial cause of liver disease and liver cancer, not to mention the tens of thousands of deaths and injuries that result from impaired drivers.
- AIDS currently represents over $20-$25 billion dollars of Federal expenditures on an annual basis and currently kills 17,000 Americans per year with 50,000 more still acquiring this disease on an annual basis. AIDS is to a great degree a preventable disease and yet only 4% of the budget on AIDS is spent on prevention.
Unless we deal with preventing rather than treating illnesses, health-care costs have the potential to bankrupt us at a local, State, and Federal level as well as making health-care costs unaffordable for many if not all of us.
Among the things we must focus on for preventing disease are:
- Nutrition: maintaining a healthy, normal, body weight, eating well, and to a great degree moving away from a meat-based diet to a more vegetarian diet will make an enormous difference in the incidence of disease.
- Exercise, if done rigorously and regularly, can not only increase longevity, minimize many diseases, prevent a great deal of osteoporosis but also improve mental faculties as well.
- Refraining from smoking, alcohol and drug use is obvious and critical. Alcohol intake should only be on a social level.
- Responsible sexual behavior can significantly reduce the incidence of AIDS and venereal disease preventing death and an enormous burden on our society.
It’s more than time that we begin to focus on individual responsibility for all of our health care issues in order to minimize the tragedy of illnesses that can be prevented. I have personally lost too many beautiful patients to remain silent on the issue of preventing disease.
Dr. Victor M. Sternberg, D.M.D.