Prevention Is Worth It

Photo of Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H.Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., Chief Medical Officer for Prevention and Chief of the Center for Health Metrics and Evaluation, American Heart Association

A better headline would have been “Preventive Care; Sometimes Good Things Cost Money.”

Examples in the January 29, 2018 New York Times column, “Preventive Care Saves Money? Sorry, It’s Too Good to Be True,” by Aaron E. Carroll, M.D., suggest a lack of savings from prevention with an admission at the end that prevention is worthwhile. In our headline-obsessed culture, the good rather than the cynical should have been the lead.

The Times column relies on selective references and definitive statements, while a more nuanced discussion of prevention would differentiate prevention that is cost savings, cost neutral or cost-effective. Perhaps Dr. Carroll is answering the wrong question. A better question might be, “Is preventive care worth the cost?” He answers that question at the end of his column: “Sometimes good things cost money.” That statement also implies that prevention is a ‘good thing.’

For Times readers, the take-away message should be that prevention is worthwhile. The right “prevention” can promote health and quality of life, prevent or delay onset of disease or disability, and extend years of healthy life. I’m certain that most people would choose to prevent heart attacks, strokes, disability, and premature death, even if that prevention came with a cost.

At the American Heart Association (AHA), prevention is a cornerstone of our commitment to improve Americans’ cardiovascular health. This includes activities from funding innovative prevention-oriented research to advocating for stronger public health policies that promote healthier living to equipping healthcare professionals with critical tools and information to improve patient health.

We promote “Life’s Simple 7” – eating a healthy diet, being physically active, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, and controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels – as the key to optimizing cardiovascular health and potentially helping to prevent up to 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases. These same seven steps can also help reduce the risk of diabetes and some forms of cancer. We’ve helped people take these steps through our work to make healthy lifestyle choices easier and more affordable everywhere.

The stakes are high. Obesity in Americans over 12 is at an all-time high. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure (46 percent), and nearly one-third have high cholesterol. Complicating matters, roughly 1 in 4 adults deal with multiple chronic conditions, accounting for nearly two-thirds of total healthcare spending. For these individuals, “Life’s Simple 7” is both prevention and treatment.

As we strengthen the evidence base and the business case for prevention, let’s emphasize the good. Healthy kids are smart kids. Healthier workers are productive workers. A healthier America is a better America. Now that’s a positive headline.