Making prevention of disease and promotion of health priorities

By Derek Yach

Blog post is based on Derek Yach’s TEDx talk in Monte Carlo on November 26, 2016

Governments and businesses spend more than 95% of healthcare costs responding to consequences of neglected disease prevention and underused health promotion. This is unacceptable. We must give disease prevention and health promotion higher priority in our lives.

When we neglect disease prevention and health promotion, years are cut from people’s lives. Those who do live longer suffer a reduced quality of life. Productivity drops, economic trajectories are impaired and national debt rises.

The core of the problem is that humans often act irrationally. Nobel Prize winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman notes that our inbuilt frailties prevent us from acting in our best long-term interests and lead us to favor today’s immediate pleasures.

Health professionals including doctors, dentists and nurses add to the problem. They are trained to treat the sick. Training rarely emphasizes evidence-based approaches to promoting health. Disease prevention is regarded as a lower priority than healing those who are ill. This is reflected in budgets for health services and incentives for health professionals, and is supported by unceasing demands for curative care.

Media and the public interest favor the needs of the single person suffering. A single sailor lost at sea or a seriously sick child captivates public attention. There is no applause and no headlines for an epidemic averted or for lives extended through lifelong healthy behaviors.

What can be done?

  1. We must take greater ownership of our health: We must place health promotion at the core of our lives. We are seeing this as personalized technologies nudge, prompt and push us toward healthier choices by using a mix of incentives, disincentives and triggers. We need to engage in our health every day.
  2. We must make markets work for health: Most people take a narrow view of businesses’ role in promoting health by looking to companies in the pharmaceutical, medical device and hospital sectors. Their focus is on healthcare not on health. Software, computing, clothing, sports, insurance, retailers and food companies are forming a new ecology that places health – not healthcare – as central to their business goals. We need more of these innovative companies.
  3. Reporting on health must become more transparent: Companies report profits, environmental impact, diversity and a host of other measurements. Reporting on the health of employees, who critical to a companies’ productivity, morale and long term success, is virtually ignored. Reporting on the impact of companies’ products and services on the health of populations has yet to start. Such reporting would help customers and investors decide whether a company is committed to making society healthier.

Over the next few months, debates will consider the Affordable Care Act and how to improve healthcare in America. A more affordable healthcare system does not start with better insurance coverage or better medical care when you get sick. The key to reducing healthcare spending in America is to increase our focus on health promotion and disease prevention.

Interested in following Derek on Twitter? Check out @swimdaily or @VitalityUSA.

This post will be updated when video footage of the TEDx presentation becomes available.

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