Opinion: Dr. Christen Cooper
Where is our national conversation on preventive health? | Opinion
By Christen Cupples Cooper, EdD, RD, Special to the USA TODAY NETWORK Jan. 29, 2020
As we enter an election year with a crowded field of candidates, primaries, caucuses and no shortage of distractions, Americans deserve to know where presidential hopefuls stand on some of the nation’s most pressing problems. Among the biggest is health care.Sadly, much lip-service is given to the health care debate, with confusing buzz words such as universal coverage, single-payer options and socialized medicine, among so many other charged words. But details on most proposals remain scant. This is all understandable as it’s nearly impossible to discuss something as complicated as health care in debate snippets or 30-second ad campaigns.Little, if any attention, is being paid tolowering the cost of health care through preventive measures —many of which could save this country billions in the coming decades. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I find this frustrating —and concerning as ignoring the problem often leads to needless suffering and expensive treatments that could potentially bankrupt this country.As the Baby Boomers reach old age and live longer than previous generations, they will require treatment to manage acute and chronic conditions. Data from the CDC suggest that Americans should be worried about the costs of three chronic conditions in particular: heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, which together account for 90% of total national health care spending. On an individual level, for example, the average expenditure for a person with diabetes is $13,700 according to the CDC.Clearly this sort of spending is not sustainable —not for individuals, health care providers, taxpayers or companies. But what’s so perplexing is that so many of these diseases arepreventable andcan be effectively treated early on through proper diet, exercise, not smoking and lowering stress levels —at a fraction of the cost.Even for individuals with a family history, chronic disease is largely preventable.Additionally, continually consuming more calories than the body burns leads to overweight and obesity, major contributors to the three biggest chronic diseases. Eighty percent of those with type 2 diabetes are overweight or obese. Numerous health authorities, including the American Institute for Cancer Research, have declared being overweight or obese a top health risk factor.Carrying excess weight during middle age may reduce life expectancy by four to seven years. With two-thirds of adults and one-third of U.S. children currently overweight or obese, the nation faces a health crisis that will grow in scale, severity and cost.