For years now, health care providers have struggled to enforce healthy lifestyles in hopes that people who live them will be able to prevent diseases like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. It’s tough work though, as many patients are more inclined to live their lives as they wish, eventually getting diagnosed with one of the diseases as a result of their neglect. But with hard work comes great reward, and the Department of Health & Human Services’ (HHS) Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators: Progress Update reports that, in many cases, efforts to prevent these diseases have grown.
The HHS report logs the government’s 10-year goals and progress in preventing disease. The latest update shows that more than half of the goals expected to be met by 2020 have been completed or are showing improvement. “The Leading Health Indicators are intended to motivate action to improve the health of the whole population,” said Dr. Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health, in a statement. “Today’s LHI Progress Report shows that we are doing just that.”
Goals that have been met include fewer children under 11 exposed to secondhand smoke, lower homicide rates, and more adults meeting the recommended amount of physical activity. These measures alone contribute to lower rates of each of the aforementioned preventable diseases, although there is still a lot of work left to be done.
More adults may be meeting physical activity guidelines, for example, but obesity among adults — and even children — has remained stagnant, even increasing by a small percentage. Meanwhile, many of these individuals aren’t eating recommended daily values of vegetables either, causing them to fall further behind with a healthy lifestyle. Obesity rates among both adults and children continue to be at their highest in over 20 years, at about 35 and 17 percent, respectively. If more people take charge of their health, rates of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes will go down, and so medical care costs, which currently range around $147 billion — that money can subsequently be spent elsewhere.
Also, while there are fewer adults smoking, and fewer children exposed to that smoke, adolescents are still smoking at more-than-expected rates; however, the HHS may meet its goal if trends continue through the last two-thirds of the decade. Smoking is a major cause of disease, sickening 16 million Americans and killing 480,000 annually.
From getting more cancer screenings to keeping blood pressure under control, and improving overall education to children getting vaccinated, the nation is on the right track to preventing disease. And as Obamacare reaches more uninsured, these rates are expected to improve, Koh said.