Americans are now living longer than any generation previously. Over the past 100 years ,the average life expectancy for Americans has increased by over 25 years. Today, Americans can expect to live well into their late 70s.
While the increase in life expectancy is commendable, Americans still have some of the lowest life expectancies in the developed world and spend trillions of dollars each year on healthcare costs. In addition, rates of infant mortality, diabetes, and other chronic conditions have continued to grow exponentially when compared to the rest of the world.
But what is the root cause of these concerns? Public health experts have come to a consensus, arguing that in part, a lack of preventative healthcare in the United States may be partially to blame.
Disease prevention is one of the most common and least expensive ways to keep populations healthy. Unfortunately, however, the American healthcare system only addresses issues after they have already progressed.
“A disproportionate share of the $2.6 trillion we spend on healthcare each year goes toward treating the sickest people–covering mostly high-cost hospital care for preventable chronic conditions like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer,” health expert Risa Livizzo-Mourey tells The Atlantic.
Livizzo-Mourey also provides statistics linked to specific behaviors and symptoms, proving that by targeting high risk behaviors that can be prevented, Americans could save billions on healthcare each year.
“Healthcare spending and lost productivity tied to smoking alone, for example, totals over $193 billion a year. It is estimated that obesity rates are responsible for $34.3 billion and $27.6 billion in additional spending in Medicare and Medicaid respectively, and 74.6 billion in higher spending by private insurers.”
By contrast, strategies that aim to help prevent chronic illnesses and promote overall health remain dreadfully underfunded. In fact, for every dollar that Americans spend on healthcare, less than four cents goes to programs that aim to prevent these life-threatening diseases in the first place.
While health insurance often dominates the national narrative when it comes to solving health concerns for Americans, insurance is only one piece of a complex health care puzzle that must include public education and disease prevention.
Since more than 50 percent of Americans live with chronic illnesses, more must be done to ensure that individuals have access to preventative services. This solution not only ensures that Americans will avoid contracting life-threatening illnesses, but it will also help to ease the burden that health care costs have on the U.S. economy.
Investments in preventative health have historically been proven to pay off over time. According to research by Trust for America’s Health, spending only $10 per person per year in programs that help to educate the public by promoting physical activity, teaching about nutrition, and preventing addiction to drugs and alcohol has the potential to save Americans over $16 billion each year.
These investments not only benefit the individual, but businesses also prosper from having a more devoted and engaged workforce. With lower healthcare costs and more disposable income, the economy thrives as well.
To keep preventative care on the forefront of the national dialogue, a number of changes must occur. Doctors and nurses must be prepared to talk about preventative care with their patients, especially with young people, who are by and large less likely to seek treatment. Patients also need to be more keenly aware about proper diet and nutrition, and be informed of the risk factors of an inactive lifestyle.
In addition, shortages in the medical field must also be addressed. According to data compiled by the education website Find Your Context, the career opportunities for individuals trained in the medical field is at an all time high.At the same time, however, there is a considerable shortage of trained and certified individuals to fill these roles.
While there are certainly a number of obstacles to overcome, it’s clear that embracing a more robust model of healthcare is necessary moving forward. While it’s unclear what the state of American healthcare will become in months and years to come, preventative and holistic care has already proven to be a demonstrable success for American citizens. If we want individuals to be able to live long, productive, and meaningful lives without the risk of chronic disease, it’s important that we develop a model that prioritizes preventative and holistic care.