As the economy is showing some signs of life, we need to face a serious problem that is holding us back: How can we expect to compete with the rest of the world when most Americans can't even run around the block?
With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese and one in five Americans smoking, we're not as healthy as we need to be to keep up in today's global economy. Until we improve the productivity of American workers and reduce health care costs, we'll be carrying extra baggage as we try to grow our economy. Literally.
We've been so focused on how to pay for health care, we've forgotten the point. We need to change the system so that we're not just numbers on financial ledgers to health insurance administrators. We need to let doctors and health professionals do their real jobs, providing every American with the opportunity to be as healthy as they could be or should be.
Health reform gives us the chance to turn this around and spend more of our energy on keeping people healthier in the first place instead of treating them only after they've become sick.
With all of the debates going on, one of the most important parts of the bills under consideration in Congress is being overlooked — support for disease prevention. If passed, these bills could lead to the greatest advancements in disease prevention and wellness our nation has seen in decades. The proposed legislation calls for a strategic investment in programs that have shown results in improving health and often have the added advantage of saving money.
Investing in prevention can have a big payoff. We could help millions of Americans avoid needless suffering at the same time we could help reduce health care costs by billions of dollars. A study released by the Trust for America's Health last summer, "Prevention for a Healthier America: Investments in Disease Prevention Yield Significant Savings, Stronger Communities," found that for an investment of $10 per person, per year in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and prevent smoking and other tobacco use, the country could save more than $16 billion annually within five years. This is a return of $5.60 for every $1.
The goal is to give people the chance to be healthier and have a better quality of life. For instance, if we can help someone who is pre- diabetic from ever developing full-blown diabetes, he or she will have a healthier life and have fewer medical costs.
Right now, more than 21 percent of adults in Connecticut are obese, and although this is one of the lowest rates of obesity in the country, it still means that one-fifth of our state is at high risk for a range of serious diseases associated with obesity, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
And the next generation looks like it is in worse shape, with 25.7 percent of Connecticut's kids weighing in as obese or overweight. On top of that, more than 17 percent of our citizens smoke.
We have two choices. We can wait until people develop expensive and painful health problems and pay the price — or we can try to prevent disease by investing in proven prevention programs that make healthy choices easier choices. These programs do not force change on people, but they provide help for people who are struggling with quitting smoking or maintaining a healthy diet or exercise program and want support.
We know from the research that if we offer these programs in communities, there are enough people who do benefit that we can significantly lower disease rates while saving money.
Real health reform must start with prevention in order to be successful. The future health and wealth of our country demands we improve the health of Americans, not just how we pay for our care.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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