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Prevention is the best medicine for health care reform: Survey

By Caroline Scott-Thomas, 16-Nov-2009

Related topics: Suppliers

The majority of Americans consider disease prevention the most important element of health care reform, according to a new poll from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The finding is potentially significant for the food industry, as it has come under increasing pressure to play a role in tackling obesity, one of the biggest causes of preventable illness in America. Much of the industry is involved in taking a dual approach, focusing efforts not only on product reformulation to reduce trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and sugar, but also on encouraging increased physical activity.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies, found that 71 percent of respondents from across the political spectrum favored more investment in disease prevention as a part of health care reform, and 44 percent strongly favored more investment in prevention.

Some of the specific prevention strategies favored by a majority of Americans included improving nutrition and physical education in schools and communities; holding community projects “accountable to rigorous evaluation” to ensure they invest in strategies that work; and setting up a Preventive Services Task Force, “an independent entity that reviews scientific evidence and cost-effectiveness of prevention programs” to help people make healthier choices.

1,008 registered voters took part in the survey.

According to an earlier report from the same groups, American obesity rates have increased in 23 states over the past year and decreased in none. The US Department of Health and Human Services has said that it aims to reduce obesity rates to 15 percent in every state before 2010, but the trend is going the other way: In 1991, no state had an obesity rate of over 20 percent – now only one state, Colorado, has a rate below 20 percent, at 18.9 percent. In 1980, the average US obesity rate was 15 percent; now the average is 34.3 percent, and another 32.7 percent are overweight.

Obesity can cause heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. The health care cost of obesity could be as high as $147bn a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.