An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Great concept. One to live by. And we can thank Benjamin Franklin, who in 1736 had that pithy thought — about fire prevention. Yup, he followed that famous sentence with, “I would advise ’em to take care how they suffer living Coals in a full Shovel … unless in a Warmingpan shut.”
But since we are facing a four-alarm emergency when it comes to the onslaught of preventable chronic diseases affecting Americans, his advice is well worth listening to.
About half of American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor-quality eating patterns and physical inactivity. The pool of folks who can expect to contend with a preventable chronic disease is getting larger.
Around 160 million Americans are overweight or obese. Obesity is associated with high blood pressure; unhealthy triglyceride and LDL and HDL cholesterol levels; Type 2 diabetes; coronary heart disease; stroke; gallbladder disease; osteoarthritis; sleep apnea; endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder and liver cancer; clinical depression and anxiety; body pain and difficulty functioning.
We acknowledge that environmental and public policy problems promote obesity and related health conditions, but that roster of chronic diseases remains mostly preventable by you. Individuals can make a difference through lifestyle choices they make about nutrition, physical activity, sleep, work, play, care for others and whom they elect.
Localities and the national government can help with green spaces, farmers markets, school lunch policies, access to information on nutritional choices and more. But they need your help to do better. They have blind spots. In 2018 the National Institutes of Health funding for cancer, which affects a bit less than 9% of the population, was $6.3 billion. Funding for obesity, which affects about 30% of the country and racks up a bill for around $147 billion annually, was allocated about $1 billion. Plus, the Environmental Protection Agency is rolling back clean air and water standards that protect you from respiratory illness, carcinogenic chemical toxins and more.
So what can you do to make prevention your mantra?
First, look at your lifestyle choices. Among U.S. adults, more than 90% of Type 2 diabetes, 80% of coronary artery disease, 70% of stroke and 70% of colon cancer are potentially preventable if folks quit smoking, maintain a healthy weight, get moderate physical activity, eat a healthy diet and stick to moderate alcohol consumption. The savings that could achieve in terms of health, happiness and health care costs is astounding. At Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic, where 40% of employees have adopted these healthy lifestyle goals, the savings have hit $850 million. So, we suggest you embrace three simple mantras that will empower you to achieve and maintain your health.
>> You are what you don’t eat. If you want to maintain or achieve a healthy weight and dodge the associated health problems, you need to stop consuming added sugars and syrups, as well as red and processed meats (we know, but that study saying there’s no evidence they do you harm was wrong) and highly processed food.
>> Move it and win it. Using your body for physical effort that is enjoyable and strengthening not only raises your spirit; it helps roll back your RealAge and slashes your risk for diabetes, heart disease and more. The goal at any age and any level of fitness is to get going. Do what you can and you will be able to do more.
>> Do unto others. Find out what’s going on in your hometown with city planning, water quality, education on nutrition, healthy school lunches and spaces for sports and recreation. Get engaged in efforts to upgrade your environment. Research shows that the immediate benefits of altruism are reduced stress, longevity and happiness. Long term, you’ll help battle those dreadful but preventable chronic diseases that so often affect you, your family and neighbors.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email questions to email@example.com.