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In the United States, only about 4% of total annual health expenditure is directed at preventing chronic diseases. As the national conversation about healthcare reform continues, there should be a paradigm shift in healthcare practice - working to improve health through prevention rather than mainly managing symptoms. The United States spent about $2.2 trillion on healthcare in 2007. This accounts for 16 percent of our gross domestic product, and that's projected to rise to 20 percent by 2017. Much of this healthcare spending can be tied to preventable health problems. For example, obesity-related spending, chiefly to treat high blood pressure and diabetes, accounted for 27 percent of the increase in overall health spending between 1987 and 2001, according to a study by Kenneth Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University. Overall, caring for people with chronic medical conditions, many of them preventable, accounts for about 75 percent of medical spending nationwide (US News Jan’09).

Every year, an estimated 900,000 people die from avoidable causes: because they failed to maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritiously, and exercise, or because they smoked or drank excessively, for example. That's roughly 40 percent of all U.S. deaths (USA News, 2009). In fact, poor or inadequate diets are linked to four of the top 10 causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Let me highlight the impact of obesity on healthcare expenditure. Excess weight is a significant factor in four of the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. Obesity has fueled a 45 percent rise in diabetes over the past 20 years; someone born in 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of developing the disease (US News Jan'09). Obesity is not just dangerous, it is expensive. New research shows medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than someone who's normal weight. Overall obesity-related health spending reaches $147 billion, double what it was nearly a decade ago, according to the journal Health Affairs (MSNBC News July'09). Given the heavy human and financial cost of chronic disease, heading off a medical condition, or at least its potential complications, seems like a no-brainer (US News Jan'09). It is sensible to promote "prevention and wellness" through preventive care, behavioral and lifestyle changes—emphasizing routine checkups, physical activity and better nutrition.
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