Health: Prevention Battles Disease And Care Costs

Local health care leaders are promoting prevention as a way to stem chronic disease and health care

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For six consecutive Monday nights in late winter 2009, Seattle resident Annie Wilson immersed herself in learning how to manage her chronic disease—for the first time since being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes nearly a decade ago. Before attending the Living Well with Chronic Conditions workshop (sponsored by Group Health Cooperative in the Capitol Hill neighborhood), Wilson, 48, a full-time student at Shoreline Community College, hadn’t made taking care of her health a priority. 

Wilson says that during the lengthy two-and-a-half-hour sessions, she and fellow classmates committed to activities, such as climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, preparing a meal in lieu of going out to eat and exercising more. Having to report back to the group the following week, Wilson says, helped her stay on track. Today, she credits the workshop’s supportive, step-by-step approach for helping her to shed weight and make other positive changes for her health. 

Health care leaders and politicians locally and across the country likely wish that more people would follow Wilson’s lead. It might make the current debate about how to contain the rampant rise in health care costs a little less urgent. (A study published in a recent issue of Health Affairs journal found that 75 percent of the $2.5 trillion spent in the U.S. each year on health care was for four chronic diseases: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.)

Locally, a Washington state chapter of the national Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) has formed to take on the issue. The organization notes that chronic diseases can often be prevented, delayed or alleviated through changes in behavior and lifestyle. It’s committed to promoting a proactive approach to disease prevention and raising awareness of chronic disease as the number-one cause of death, disability and rising health care costs nationwide.

Exactly how members of PFCD’s Washington state chapter—which includes representatives of Microsoft, Group Health and the Moyer Foundation—hope to achieve this is still being formulated. But Gordon Bopp, Ph.D., one of four co-chairs of the state chapter, notes that the cost of chronic diseases could eventually bankrupt the country. Bopp, who also is the chairman of the public policy committee of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, believes a serious discussion about how to reform our country’s broken health care system must include an ongoing discussion about the huge problem of chronic disease. 

“We wait until the illness is there, and then we start to treat them [chronic diseases], and that’s much more costly than prevention and educating the people on making better choices on what they consume,” says Bopp, who believes the medical community should do a better job connecting the dots when it comes to how certain lifestyle choices can lead to chronic disease. Type 2 diabetes is a great example of how a poor diet sets the stage for illnesses that will r