Preventable Diseases Costing U.S. Billions, Report Finds

Unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise are costing the United States billions of dollars in the treatment of preventable diseases, a new report from the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and Partnership for Prevention finds.

The twentieth edition of America's Health Rankings (116 pages, PDF) found that the nation's healthcare system has become adept at treating certain illnesses and disease, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, Americans are struggling to modify behaviors that contribute to chronic diseases in the first place. As a result, the United States spends more per capita than any other nation on health care, including $1.5 trillion in medical costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer — diseases that have a direct link to smoking and obesity, the nation's two largest national risk factors.

According to the report, obesity is growing faster than any previous public health issue in the United States. Today, 31 percent of Americans are considered obese and if current trends continue, more than 100 million U.S. adults — or 43 percent of the population — will be considered obese by 2018. Over the same period, obesity could add $344 billion to the nation's annual healthcare costs and account for more than 21 percent of healthcare spending.

The report also contains a ranking of the healthiest states in the nation, with Vermont topping the list — up from twentieth in 1990 — followed by Utah, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and New Hampshire. Mississippi was found to be the least healthy state and was joined at the bottom of the list by Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana, and South Carolina.

"As a nation, we are fighting the wrong healthcare battle," said American Public Health Association executive director Georges C. Benjamin. "Although there is a wealth of evidence supporting the value of prevention as a way to save lives and save money, the majority of every healthcare dollar goes towards treating illness. Essentially, health reform should include a strong focus on prevention. Behaviors, such as smoking and obesity, are limiting our nation's ability to make progress and costing billions in unnecessary, preventable healthcare costs."