Health Education and Prevention Can Save the US Economy Billions of Dollars

March 24, 2020

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 The majority of the US population is at risk of falling victim to diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease. This isn’t bad news just for you — the research evidence is actually concerning the entire nation.

Treatment of the most wide-spread lethal and chronic illnesses costs a huge amount of taxpayers’ money each year. For example, Americans spent roughly 3.65 trillion on health care in 2018. That total is about the same size as Spain and Canada's entire economies — combined.

As a matter of fact, the majority of common diseases are to some extent under our control. The behavior and lifestyle of each individual can positively contribute to personal and national health, as well as to the US economy.

Then how do we start living differently? Preventative action and health education are proven to have a direct positive impact on the number of sick patients and the bills associated with their treatment. This summarizes the first and most important step towards making a long-lasting change - prevention.

Preventable Diseases Are Costing Our Economy Hundreds of Billions of Dollars

Obesity

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 Obesity is associated with serious health risks and increased chances of further complications, such as coronary heart disease. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, obesity among US adults was at 42.4% in 2017–2018. They also estimated that more than 30% of adults aged 20 and over are overweight.

There is a direct correlation between these numbers and the rise of terminal diseases. According to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 88 million Americans aged 18 and over had prediabetes in 2015.

The Pulitzer Prize awarded investigative reporter at The New York Times Michael Moss shared that the medical treatment for obesity costs the country as much as $100 billion a year! In his book Salt, Sugar, Fat, Moss points to research showing that a mere reduction in salt consumption could prevent 81,000 deaths a year and cut medical bills by $20 billion in total.

Chronic Diseases

Treating diseases similar to obesity also costs the healthcare system and people a lot of time, money and resources. Chronic back pain, osteoporosis, asthma, allergies, and hearing loss are some good examples. A significant fraction of them is caused by lifestyle choices and environment-related conditions that can often be controlled by each individual.

Diabetes

Other diseases, such as type II diabetes, are also preventable, and in some cases, curable. Treating one of the factors causing the problem, for instance, bad eating habits can save a lot of medical expenses spent later when the disease progresses into a more severe form.

The presented data gives us a clear picture of the amount of healthcare budget and resources that can be saved if we are taking systemized effective actions on time. Although we can’t eliminate the problem completely, we can certainly decrease the number of cases by taking adequate prevention measures.

Contagious Diseases

Highly contagious diseases are another group of preventable illnesses that usually have a disruptive effect on the economy. They can spread very quickly and result in unimaginable human suffering, financial losses, and social devastation. Unlike the other listed diseases, these are easily transmitted so prevention is the only way to slow down the spread and literally save human lives.

What COVID-19 Teaches Us About Prevention

The COVID-19 epidemic is a perfect example. Negative economic impacts followed just days after the outbreak. Businesses around the world were forced to shut down and faced great economic losses. Disruption of daily life and usual activities greatly challenged small businesses.

Informing people about the risks and advising on adequate precautionary measures happened to be the key to protect against the spread of coronavirus. Prevention in the form of social distancing was the only way to try to reduce the long term negative impacts. In spite of the shared effort, medical workers around the world still have to work under tremendous pressure and the economy is going down with unprecedented force and speed.

Although infectious diseases are not something we can control, what we can do is focus on preventing the spread of the virus. COVID-19 is the living evidence that educating the general public on a problem can help promote prevention before all. 

Are Modern-Day Diseases Really Preventable?

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Eating habits and lifestyle went through a great transformation first during the beginning of the Agricultural Era (12,000 years ago) and later, during the Industrial Revolution (19th century).

According to Prof. Daniel Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, the major causes of death until recently were: violent accidents and infectious diseases (influenza, measles, etc).

These are both very different from the leading causes of death in present-day America. Our ancestors didn’t suffer from cancer, diabetes, stroke, or back and joint pain. They didn’t deal with impacted wisdom teeth, plaque, or cavities since they had perfect dental health.
Clearly what kills us today is entirely a product of poor lifestyle choices. In other words, by changing our habits we can hugely improve our health.

The factors that are directly related to most chronic diseases and conditions are often well under our control:

  • Poor diet and lack of physical activity
  • Smoking and overuse of alcohol
  • Inadequate relief of chronic stress

Changing one’s habits and culture is definitely not an easy task. In order to realize the advantages of different lifestyles, however, we should look at the best practices around the world. Japan is a great example. The fact that its citizens have an average life expectancy of 84.67 (versus 78.93 in the US) is particularly due to their balanced eating habits. 

Medical Graduates & Allied Health Professionals in Great Demand

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Allied health job opportunities have been steadily growing in recent years. If we examine healthcare education in New Jersey, California or Texas, for example, we can clearly see the high demand for trained medical professionals. Along with doctors and nurses, allied health professionals help us battle the negative effects of modern lifestyle. Their jobs, however, are not just related to treating patients. 

The Role of Health Education

Education is among the best ways to address the major causes of many health problems. Since allied health professionals inform their patients on medication and lifestyle choices, their role in prevention is crucial.

People are indeed more likely to take action towards a healthier life when they have to face the negative circumstances of bad health choices. Medical check-ups often work as a switch in our brain that makes us realize the importance of a balanced lifestyle and precautions. Similarly, medical staff and other patients inspire us to get back on the right track.

We all know being overweight is bad, but do we know why exactly? Are we aware of how it affects the overall health of our hearts? Anyone employed in the healthcare system working with ill patients on a daily basis is more likely to know the answers to those questions.

Medical and allied healthcare practitioners are surely the best people to consult with, and the best people to spread the knowledge and message of preventative healthcare.

Health Education: A Sound National & Personal Investment

Reshaping an entire nation’s culture or waging an open war with the food giants is a massive challenge. Still, the small changes we attempt through spreading awareness, health education, and precautions, are what will make a difference in the future.

Prospective medical practitioners and students who are currently in the middle of their professional training, have yet to realize the impact they’ll have on people’s lives. Their work is not about immediately relieving the pain, but about helping prevent it over time.

If you’d like to work in the field of healthcare without having a medical degree, you should definitely consider allied healthcare opportunities.