Monday, December 14, 2009

We can cure it, so why can’t we prevent it?

One thing struck me as I perused through the 2009 America’s Health Rankings survey, which ranks the states on how healthy their citizens are: As a nation, we have become adept at treating many illnesses and diseases, but Americans are not modifying risk factors that contribute to chronic diseases.

Two risk factors, tobacco use and obesity, have emerged as the two leading preventable causes of chronic illnesses that threaten the health of the nation.

While tobacco use dropped from 19.8% of the population last year to 18.3% this year, approximately 440,000 deaths annually are still attributable to this preventable behavior. Over the past year, more than 3 million people have quit smoking, suggesting that smoke-free laws, smoking bans, increased cigarette taxes, access to smoking cessation programs and other interventions can make an impact.

Obesity is growing faster than any previous chronic health issue our nation has ever faced. Today, more than one in four Americans are considered obese. Obesity has increased nearly 130% since the first edition of America’s Health Rankings was issued 20 years ago. Currently, 27% of the population is obese. If current trends continue, 103 million American adults — or 43% of the population — will be considered obese in 2018, making obesity the nation’s next health battle.

The United States currently spends more per capita than any other nation on health care, including $1.8 trillion in medical costs associated with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, which can be linked to tobacco use and obesity.

Every year, United Health Foundation teams up with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention to conduct the America’s Health Rankings survey. This year, United Health Foundation commissioned a supplemental report to help understand the financial impact of obesity. This supplemental “Future Costs of Obesity” report, written by Kenneth E. Thorpe, Ph.D., Emory University professor and Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease executive director, is the first to provide projections around future health care costs directly attributable to obesity that have been individually calculated for each state, as well as the nation. Left unchecked, obesity will add nearly $344 billion to the nation’s annual health care costs by 2018 and account for more than 21% of health care spending.

So how does Pennsylvania rank when compared to other states when it comes to our two biggest health challenges since 1990, smoking and obesity?

Here are the results.
2009 Pennsylvania State Ranking: 28th
2009 Smoking and Obesity Rankings: (based on a comparison of the incidence rates among all 50 states)
Prevalence of Smoking: 38th
Prevalence of Obesity: 36th

20-Year Ranking in Smoking and Obesity: (based on a comparison of the incidence rates in 1990 among all 50 states to today’s rates)
Prevalence of Smoking: 8% decrease in smoking from 29.3% in 1990 to 21.3% in 2009
Prevalence of Obesity: 15.8% increase in obesity from 12.5% in 1990 to 28.3% in 2009

It looks as if we in Pennsylvania have a long way to go in reducing the preventable causes of chronic illnesses.

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