— Published by National Prevention Council, June 2011.
Copied with permission by Lilac Hills Ranch, May 21, 2013
The strength and ingenuity of America’s people and communities have driven America’s success. A healthy and fit nation is vital to that strength and is the bedrock of the productivity, innovation, and entrepreneurship essential for our future. Healthy people can enjoy their lives, go to work, contribute to their communities, learn, and support their families and friends. A healthy nation is able to educate its people, create and sustain a thriving economy, defend itself, and remain prepared for emergencies.
The Affordable Care Act, landmark health legislation passed in 2010, created the National Prevention Council and called for the development of the National Prevention Strategy to realize the benefits of prevention for all Americans’ health. The National Prevention Strategy is critical to the prevention focus of the Affordable Care Act and builds on the law’s efforts to lower health care costs, improve the quality of care, and provide coverage options for the uninsured.
Preventing disease and injuries is key to improving America’s health. When we invest in prevention, the benefits are broadly shared. Children grow up in communities, homes, and families that nurture their healthy development, and people are productive and healthy, both inside and outside the workplace. Businesses benefit because a healthier workforce reduces long-term health care costs and increases stability and productivity. Furthermore, communities that offer a healthy, productive, stable workforce can be more attractive places for families to live and for businesses to locate.
Although America provides some of the world’s best health care and spent over $2.5 trillion for health in 2009, the U.S. still ranks below many countries in life expectancy, infant mortality, and many other indicators of healthy life.1 Most of our nation’s pressing health problems can be prevented. Eating healthfully and engaging in regular physical activity, avoiding tobacco, excessive alcohol use, and other drug abuse, using seat belts, and receiving preventive services and vaccinations are just a few of the ways people can stay healthy. Health is more than merely the absence of disease; it is physical, mental, and social well-being.2 Investments in prevention complement and support treatment and care. Prevention policies and programs can be cost-effective, reduce health care costs, and improve productivity (Appendix 1). The National Prevention Strategy’s core value is that Americans can live longer and healthier through prevention.
Many of the strongest predictors of health and well-being fall outside of the health care setting. Social, economic, and environmental factors all influence health.3 People with a quality education, stable employment, safe homes and neighborhoods, and access to high quality preventive services tend to be healthier throughout their lives and live longer. When organizations, whether they are governmental, private, or nonprofit, succeed in meeting these basic needs, people are more likely to exercise, eat healthy foods, and seek preventive health services. Meeting basic needs and providing information about personal health and health care can empower people to make healthy choices, laying a foundation for lifelong wellness.
Preventing disease requires more than providing people with information to make healthy choices. While knowledge is critical, communities must reinforce and support health, for example, by making healthy choices easy and affordable. We will succeed in creating healthy community environments when the air and water are clean and safe; when housing is safe and affordable; when transportation and community infrastructure provide people with the opportunity to be active and safe; when schools serve children healthy food and provide quality physical education; and when businesses* provide healthy and safe working conditions and access to comprehensive wellness programs. When all sectors (e.g., housing, transportation, labor, education, defense) promote prevention-oriented environments and policies, they all contribute to health.
The National Prevention Strategy builds on the fact that lifelong health starts at birth and continues throughout all stages of life. Prevention begins with planning and having a healthy pregnancy, develops into good eating and fitness habits in childhood, is supported by preventive services at all stages of life, and promotes the ability to remain active, independent, and involved in one’s community as we age. Students who are healthy and fit come to school ready to learn; employees who are free from mental and physical conditions take fewer sick days, are more productive, and help strengthen the economy; and older adults who remain physically and mentally active are more likely to live independently.
To ensure that all Americans share in the benefits of prevention, the National Prevention Strategy includes an important focus on those who are disproportionately burdened by poor health. In the United States, significant health disparities exist and these disparities are closely linked with social, economic, and environmental disadvantage (e.g., lack of access to quality affordable health care, healthy food, safe opportunities for physical activity, and educational and employment opportunities.
Read the entire report