America’s Health Rankings™ is an annual comprehensive assessment of the nation’s health. It is published jointly by United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention. The data in the report comes from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report is reviewed and overseen by a Scientific Advisory Committee, with members from leading academic institutions, government agencies and the private sector.
The data contained in the 20th Anniversary Edition of America’s Health Rankings™ notes a worrisome escalation in preventable diseases that will significantly increase costs in an already unaffordable medical care delivery system. Of the $2.4 trillion of annual health care expenditures in the United States, $1.8 trillion is associated with the treatment of chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Results from the Nation’s only 20-Year Scorecard
Many public health scholars believe that obesity has become equal to, and may overtake tobacco use, as the most significant risk factor for death and disease in the nation. While smoking has declined slightly in the past 20 years and it still exacts extraordinary health consequences on our nation, obesity is on a dangerous, and as yet unchecked, trajectory.
Smoking — Biggest Battle of Past 20 Years: Despite focused efforts, nearly one in five Americans still smoke. Over the past year, more than 3 million people have quit smoking, suggesting that interventions such as smoke-free laws, smoking bans, increased cigarette taxes, access to smoking cessation programs and other interventions may have a positive impact.
Obesity — Next National Health Battle: Obesity is growing faster than any previous chronic health issue our nation has faced. Today, more than one in four Americans are considered obese. If current trends continue, 43 percent of the population will be considered obese by 2018.
Other 20-Year Improvements and Challenges: Over the past 20 years, the nation has seen significant declines in crime rates, infectious disease, smoking and infant mortality rates. Challenges since 1990 include the rising uninsured rate, lack of progress in increasing high school graduation rates and the need to continue to improve access to adequate prenatal care for pregnant women.
“As our nation’s leaders discuss health care reform and address the essential challenge of providing medical care coverage for 46 million uninsured Americans, controlling the escalation in health care costs is an imperative,” said Reed Tuckson, M.D, United Health Foundation board member and executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, UnitedHealth Group. “Unless there is urgent action across our society, our already overburdened care system will be swamped by a tsunami of cost and demands from preventable chronic disease. Together, as individuals, community leaders, health care professionals, employers and elected officials, we must elevate disease prevention and health promotion to the top of our agendas.”
So, let’s make sure we understand the differences between acute and chronic disease. Acute diseases or illnesses typically have a local and immediate cause such as infection or trauma. Whereas, chronic diseases or illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, dementia, and mental illness have been coming on for a long time and typically have a holistic and metabolic cause. A person’s lifetime habits or exposures create physiologic and metabolic disturbances that over time trigger chronic disease.
The treatment of acute and chronic disease are also very different. The mindset of a specialist in treating acute disease, such as an emergency room doctor for example, is to stabilize immediate life threatening dangers. But, the mindset of a chronic disease specialist is completely different. It is focused more on how to correct physiological and biochemical imbalances slowly and transitionally. This is done through a working relationship between medical practitioners and patients to use education, medications, nutritional supplements, stress management modalities and exercise to change each individual’s lifestyle habits over time.
I started my medical career in internal medicine as a primary care doctor and then went on to specialize in Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine and Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine. My latest endeavor is to become certified in Functional Medicine and the older I get and the more I learn the more I realize that Dr. Andrew Taylor Still was way ahead of his time! He said in his own autobiography: “We must know, if we would succeed as healers, that normal, does not simply mean to place bones in a normal position, that muscles and ligaments may play in their allotted places and act with freedom at all times. But beyond all this lies a still greater question to solve, which is how and when to apply the chemicals of life as nature designs they shall be. If life be aided in the process of removing all hindrances to health, just what power to apply to call forth lymph, fibrin, albumin, uric acid, muriatic, or any other fluid from the great chemical human laboratory, that has within itself all necessary qualities, and never fails in the grand show up to bring them into use when wisely called on to do so, from the outer skin to the center of man and life in all nature.”
The answer to every medical issue is not necessarily another pill. Our present medical system needs to embrace this belief and change its focus if we are to be successful in altering our chronic disease crisis.