"An ounce of prevention' is still "worth a pound of cure'

By Debbies Howles Fleming Published:

Chronic diseases account for 70 percent of all deaths in the United States and these diseases affect the daily lives of an estimated 25 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Many of these diseases are preventable since the underlying causes of most chronic diseases are lifestyle choices.  These lifestyle choices or risk factors include using tobacco, being overweight or obese and physical inactivity.

Advances and achievements in public health policies have added 25 years to the life expectancy of Americans during the 20th century.  Many of those achievements were policy-based actions that also contained educational components.

One example would be the control of infectious diseases.  In the early 1900s, the leading causes of death were infectious diseases such as diphtheria, smallpox and typhoid fever.  Deaths from infectious diseases began to decline sharply, especially in children, with the advances in medical technology such as the discovery of vaccines and antibiotics and improvements in sanitation.   

By 1957, heart disease and cancer replaced infectious diseases as the leading causes of death.  One of the greatest challenges faced by public health in the 21st century is overcoming obstacles and barriers in preventive health.  These obstacles and barriers will prohibit the same type of advances experienced in the last century.

Barriers include lack of complete financial support for evidence based prevention programs and lack of knowledge concerning the principals of behavior and environmental change.  Soaring health care costs will continue to drain resources unless the need to prevent chronic diseases is fully addressed.

The majority of today’s health care dollars are primarily spent on secondary prevention such as controlling high blood pressure with medication rather than preventing the development of high blood pressure by controlling risk factors.  Preventative programs would educate the individual concerning lifestyle changes that could achieve the same positive results without medication.

In some instances, lifestyle changes can prevent the onset and progressions of diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.  Once a disease has been diagnosed, the amount of money needed for treatment may be astronomical. 

A survey report released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that Americans overwhelmingly support increased funding for health prevention programs as part of the economic stimulus plan.   In particular, programs that will help reduce the underlying factors that lead to chronic illnesses received the most support.

Benjamin Franklin is given credit for coining the phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  The adage was actually first used by 13th century Englishman, Henry deBracton.  No matter the author, the phrase is truer today than ever before.

Recent research shows that every $10 invested in prevention programs will result in a five-fold savings in health care costs.  The programs most often cited are those that would increase physical activity, improve nutrition and eliminate tobacco use as well as eliminate the exposure to second-hand smoke

The Franklin County Health Department (FCHD) continues to invite public participation in the on going development and evaluation of a Community Health Improvement Plan.  The goal to mobilize partnerships to improve community health is necessary to insure continuing community involvement in solving health problems and eliminating health inequities.

If you or your organization would like to take part in the Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships Coalition, please contact FCHD at 564-5559.  A full report is available on the website at fchd.org.


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