More than half of premature deaths in the U.S. are caused by a range of risk factors that include some controllable behaviors: tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity. Yet new research shows the National Institutes of Health, the nations largest funder of biomedical research, spends less than a tenth of its total budget on prevention research aimed at changing habits.
The new analysis, reported this week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, is the first to take a detailed look at how much the NIH spends on studying behavioral interventions in people to prevent six leading chronic conditions among Americans: heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and cancer. About half of chronic diseases could be prevented if people modified risky behaviors, the researchers noted.
Between 2010 and 2012, the NIH spent an estimated $2.2 billion to $2.6 billion a year on human behavioral studies to prevent chronic diseases. Thats just 7 to 9 percent of its total $30 billion annual budget.
According to the NIH, it spends 20 percent of its overall budget on prevention. The remaining 80 percent goes to research on treatments.
The low proportion of research funding for disease prevention and health promotion has been the trend since at least 2009, said Chris Calitz, M.P.P., the studys lead author and director of health programs and evaluation at the American Heart Association. Many chronic diseases can be prevented through effective lifestyle interventions, so the federal research budget needs to address the current imbalance between prevention and treatment.
Prevention is central to the AHAs goal to improve cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent while reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent by 2020.
To that end, the AHA awarded a $15 million grant last July to four major institutions as part of a research network to help prevent heart disease and stroke, the nations No. 1 and No. 5 killers.
Of course, we want scientists to find the best treatments for heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions, said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., chief medical officer for prevention at the AHA, who was not involved in the study. But its even better to find the best ways to prevent those diseases from developing in the first place.
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