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New U.S. Health Initiative Highlights Disease Prevention

Multi-agency effort will focus on encouraging exercise, healthy eating

THURSDAY, June 16, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Good medical care alone won't build a healthy nation, said U.S. government officials on Thursday as they unveiled a new national initiative that will emphasize wellness and disease prevention.

The National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy, as it is called, will focus on creating programs that take into account health care, plus clean air and water, safe worksites, healthy foods and drug and alcohol abuse.

"Nothing is more important to our nation's future than the health of our citizens," Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said during a morning press conference.

"To keep our country healthy in both body and mind, we need to make sure Americans get the best possible care when they get sick," she said. "But the most effective and the most affordable strategy is to keep people from getting sick in the first place."

The National Prevention Strategy arose from a provision of the Affordable Care Act and was developed by the National Prevention Council, which is made up of heads of 17 federal agencies.

"Today we take a momentous step forward in America's transformation from a sick-care system to a true health-care system, one that focuses on prevention, health promotion and wellness," said Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, also speaking at the press conference.

Harkin noted that the United States spends more than $2 trillion on health care. But only 4 cents of every dollar has gone to prevention and public health -- "in spite of the fact that we know that prevention and public health are among the best tools we have to reduce health care spending in this country," he said.

"For every dollar we invest in prevention, we save $6 in projected health care costs," he added.

The strategy's recommendations for a healthy and fit nation include four key areas:

  • Creating community environments that promote health and safety.
  • Expanding community preventive services.
  • Helping people make healthy choices.
  • Eliminating disparities in health care.

The policy also focuses on other key ways to improve health:

  • Not smoking.
  • Preventing drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Eating healthfully.
  • Keeping physically active.
  • Living free of injury and violence.
  • Caring for reproductive and sexual health.
  • Promoting mental and emotional well-being.

Health advocacy groups were quick to applaud the introduction of the new strategy.

In a statement issued Thursday, Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, said: "Quite simply, prevention is an investment in the future health of America. This strategy puts us on a pathway toward improving the health and quality of life for individuals, families, and communities around the country."

Robert Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, said in a statement that the association "is pleased that the National Prevention Strategy's strategic directions and priorities align so closely with the day-to-day work of local health departments." Those health departments focus on the health and well-being of every person in their communities, he said, "and are often a community's first line of defense against disaster and disease."

Government officials said that chronic diseases -- such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes -- account for 7 of 10 American deaths each year and 75 percent of U.S. health spending.

More information

For more information on the new National Prevention Strategy, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

SOURCES: Statement, Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director, The Trust for America's Health; statement, Robert Pestronk, executive director, National Association of County and City Health Officials; June 16, 2011, teleconference with: Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa
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