US invests in disease prevention

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Public health Medicine

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has earmarked $250m for investment in the prevention of chronic diseases.

The second part of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, announced last week by US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is designed to promote public health and wellness by developing the nation’s health infrastructure.

An increased national focus on prevention is key to the US functional food and dietary supplement industries, which have invested millions in developing products that can help reduce the risk of certain diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

According to HHS, chronic diseases such as these are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths each year among Americans, and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending. “Many Americans engage in behaviors such as tobacco use, poor diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol abuse, which harm their health,”​ it said.

“Investing in prevention and public health builds the foundation for improving the health and well-being of Americans, and for lowering costs in the health care system,”​ said Secretary Sebelius, adding that investing in proven preventive services “will help patients get the care they need early, avoiding costly and unnecessary care later.”

The $250m investment under this new fund is designed to tackle some of the underlying causes of chronic disease. It will be channelled into initiatives on a federal, state and community level to help prevent obesity and improve fitness. It will also be used to support the existing public health infrastructure, to develop research and tracking and to expand public health training initiatives.

Supplements in prevention

The dietary supplement industry has long promoted the potential of supplements as part of an integrated health care system, due to their key role in preventive care.

According to Andrew Shao, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at the trade group Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), “The preventive effects of certain dietary supplements are well documented, including strong evidence supporting the use of folic acid to prevent neural tube birth defects; omega-3 fatty acids to promote heart health; calcium and vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis; lutein to reduce the risk of macular degeneration; etc​.”

Observational studies have shown that people who engage in a healthy lifestyle - including eating a healthy diet, exercising, taking supplements, and not smoking, - tend to have lower rates of chronic disease, including cancer, he recently told

In 2005, industry groups set up the Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus, which holds regular briefings designed to inform Congress on the role of dietary supplements in a maintaining health. However, in all communications on the subject, the groups are always quick to stress that the benefits of supplements are delivered when they are taken as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.

According to CRN, over 150m Americans use dietary supplements each year.

As more and more consumers and healthcare professionals recognize the health benefits that these products provide, we hope that the usage will reflect these shifts​,” said Shao.

More public health funding

Earlier last week, Secretary Sebelius announced the allocation of the first half of the Prevention and Public Health fund to increase the number of clinicians and strengthen the primary care workforce.

“With these investments and others, the Affordable Care Act is continuing the Obama Administration’s historic work to promote wellness and reduce chronic disease. The new law also calls for a national strategy to improve the nation’s health, eliminates co-pays for key preventive services like cancer screenings, and provides new support for employer wellness programs,”​ said HHS.

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