What Exactly Is Preventative Health Care? — The DGBM Taylor Family Foundation
Experts estimate that preventative health care could potentially give the average person an extra 23 years of life. Read on to learn more about what preventative health care is and how taking a proactive approach to our health can help us lead healthier, happier, longer lives.
In preventative medicine, rather than treating a disease once it arises, caregivers take steps to prevent the patient from developing the disease in the first place.
Diseases stem from a variety of causes. Some are caused by environmental factors or specific disease agents, while others are attributable to lifestyle choices or genetic predispositions.
A study by the Institute on Medicine on US premature deaths between 1990 and 2010 revealed that almost half were caused by preventable exposures and behaviors. These include chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, certain infectious diseases, and unintentional injuries.
Research suggests that a combination of a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet causes around 400,000 deaths in the US each year. According to statistics published by the World Health Organization (WHO), of the 56.9 million people who died worldwide in 2016, 71 percent died due to non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases.
Analysts estimate that preventative health care has the potential to save millions of lives worldwide, cutting the prevalence and mortality rate of many chronic diseases.
Preventing disease through healthy lifestyle choices
Preventative health care comes in many forms. Simply making smarter lifestyle choices can have a massive impact on our health, preventing and even reversing a range of conditions.
WHO estimates that around 50 percent of smokers will die from smoking-related diseases, with tobacco smoke accounting for more than 8 million deaths worldwide every year. Around 1.2 million of these deaths are the result of non-smokers being exposed to secondhand smoke.
Diet and physical activity both play an integral role in human health. The advent of digital technologies has led to a rapid fall in physical activity in many societies throughout the world. An upsurge in calorific diets, high in saturated fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, as well as increasingly sedentary lifestyles, have sparked a global obesity epidemic.
Obesity in itself can be incredibly harmful to health. It is also a direct cause of a range of serious and life-threatening health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancer types.
Preventative health care promotes smart lifestyle choices, such as exercising and eating a healthy, balanced diet, rich in key vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
People who live in impoverished communities face the greatest risk of preventable death and disease. Medical impoverishment prevents communities from having access to lifesaving vaccines, leaving babies, children, and adults susceptible to contracting potentially fatal illnesses.
WHO figures indicate that, between 2010 and 2015, vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths globally. Meanwhile, millions more were saved from the life-changing consequences of these preventable illnesses such as deafness, blindness, physical and mental disability, and infertility.
The global push against polio has entered its final stages, with just three countries worldwide still working to eradicate the disease. Vaccines are one of modern medicine’s greatest achievements to date.
In most developed countries, citizens are routinely screened for a wide variety of disease types. From genetic carrier screening to diagnostic tests, physicians have a plethora of screening methods to help prevent transmittable and non-communicable diseases.
Preventative screening can be used to identify risk factors for disease, such as poor lifestyle choices or genetic contributors. Common screening tests check for high cholesterol, hyperglycemia, and elevated blood pressure.
Screening tests can also be used to detect contagious diseases before an individual shows symptoms. Preventative screening is particularly effective in the treatment and prevention of cancer, as it enables caregivers to check for genetic markers in the patient’s DNA. Vital insights into the individual’s unique genetic constitution can help doctors establish a treatment plan, such as increased screening, lifestyle changes, or surgery, to prevent cancer.
People can reduce their risk of both conditions through effective screening and lifestyle changes, including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating a balanced diet
- Keeping active
- Reducing cholesterol and blood pressure
- Limiting intake of sugar and alcohol
- Stopping smoking
Research published in 2013 by the American Heart Association revealed that taking one or two of the steps outlined above can cut an individual’s cancer risk by 21 percent. Those who take four of these steps can reduce their cancer risk by 33 percent, while implementing all of the steps cut cancer risk by 51 percent.
Preventative health care, in its various forms, has already saved millions of lives. By taking a proactive approach, we can all minimize our risks of developing debilitating diseases, and enjoy longer, happier lives.