Opinion

Education critical in fight against chronic diseases

Hospital health care professionals on their daily rounds. (Photo: Spotmatik Ltd, via Shutterstock)

Despite California’s well-earned reputation as a healthy living state, 14 million Californians are living with at least one chronic condition, and more than half of this group has multiple chronic conditions.

According to the California Department of Public Health, nearly $100 billion annually is spent treating chronic conditions, representing approximately 42 percent of all health care costs in the state.

Nearly one in three adults—over eight million Californians—are living with at least one of the most common forms of CVD—heart disease, heart failure, stroke, or hypertension (high blood pressure).

Even though there have been advances in prevention and treatment, cardiovascular disease (CVD) claims more California lives than any other condition. Added to that, people with diabetes are at an even higher risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. People with diabetes are either unable to produce enough insulin, unable to use insulin properly, or in some cases both.

The long term effects of elevated blood sugar levels damages the blood vessels leading to CVD, nerve damage, vision and kidney problems. In fact, CVD is the cause of death in nearly 65 percent of people with diabetes. And compounding these concerning facts is the fact that many are unaware of the increasing co-existence of these two chronic diseases that are costing far too many lives and health care dollars.

The best way to prevent heart disease is to prevent diabetes itself. Unfortunately, diabetes is on the rise in California.

Three years ago one in 12 Californians had diabetes, now it’s one in 10. It is well known that healthy behavior can prevent chronic disease, and both diabetes and cardiovascular disease especially can be managed more effectively, and even prevented, with good lifestyle choices like eating well, exercising more and avoiding tobacco.

Nearly one in three adults—over eight million Californians—are living with at least one of the most common forms of CVD—heart disease, heart failure, stroke, or hypertension (high blood pressure). Annual health care costs for CVD in California have been estimated at $37 billion— far greater than any other chronic condition. The declining health of Californians when it comes to these diseases simply cannot continue.

So what now? Shining a light on the growing problem of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and educating Californians on what they can do to preserve their health is critical at this point. There is no universal way to avoid these diseases, but knowledge is power.

People CAN prevent or delay progression of both these debilitating diseases, and make choices that lessen their co-occurrence. The National Institute of Health has proven that optimizing a healthy weight with 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week can reduce the development of type 2 diabetes by more than 50 percent. A diet that is low-fat, low salt and high fiber is crucial. Lastly, smoking doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with diabetes, since nicotine constricts blood vessels and restricts blood flow.

Opportunities to motivate change also exist for health care providers; prioritizing care coordination is important for providers treating patients with multiple chronic conditions. Policymakers can also play a role by supporting programs and policies that make the connection between diabetes and CVD to extend the reach of important messages focused on prevention and greater overall wellness.

We can turn around this unfortunate trend. We can spend less money on health care.  We must all play a role in helping each other lead healthier and more empowered lives.

Ed’s Note: Kenneth Thorpe, PhD, chairs the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, an internationally recognized advocacy organization of patients, providers, community organizations, business and labor groups and health policy experts. 

 


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