Monday, July 14, 2008

The Power of Prevention

According to a survey published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services a few years back, Americans have never felt more vulnerable. We are more fearful of unpredictable, mainly random events such as terrorist attacks, anthrax exposure, West Nile virus, violence and crime and other uncontrollable threats such as a plane crash than we are of largely preventable life-threatening diseases.

The risks of illness or death from chronic disease, however, are far greater. While many Americans are aware of the seriousness of chronic illness, most of us have not changed our lifestyles sufficiently to reduce their risk of death or illness.

The top five chronic diseases – heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes – cause more than two thirds of all deaths each year. This epidemic is not limited to older adults: a third of the years of potential life lost before age 65 are due to chronic disease.

The number of deaths alone fails to convey the full picture of the toll of chronic disease. More than 125 million Americans live with chronic conditions, with millions of cases diagnosed each year. These disabling conditions (such as arthritis, stroke and diabetes) cause major limitations in activity for one of every 10 Americans. And almost everyone is adversely affected by chronic disease in one way or another – through the death of a loved one; a family member’s struggle with lifelong illness, disability or compromised quality of life; or the huge personal and societal financial burden brought on by chronic disease.

We cannot afford to ignore the urgency of chronic disease. Although this epidemic is the most common and costly of all health problems, it is also the most preventable. Access to high-quality and affordable prevention measures (including screening and appropriate follow-up) is essential if we are to saves lives and reduce medical care costs.

Three modifiable health-damaging behaviors – tobacco use, lack of physical activity, and poor eating habits – are responsible for much of our chronic disease. That’s why Martin Memorial has put resources in place to help fight these diseases:

Effective Oct. 1, we will be a smoke-free campus. To assist our patients and Associates, we are conducting more than our typical offering of cessation classes for day and evening availability.

We have comprehensive weight-management and diabetes-education programs.

We have on-site fitness centers.

We will be conducting biometric screenings (blood pressure, glucose, BMI and cholesterol) for our Associates during our benefits open-enrollment period in the summer and fall.

Our health promotion team is working with our cafeteria vendor for healthy menu options.

We have youth weight-management classes.

We conduct resilience workshops.

These are key ingredients for helping to create a healthier, prevention-centric mindset and will provide impact toward a better quality workforce and community.

-- Lani Kee, MS
Manager, Martin Memorial Center for Health and Healing
and Treasure Coast Health and Fitness Center

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