Health Reform Is Useless Without Behavior Change

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media , August 19, 2009

Chronic disease is costing healthcare and the American economy billions of dollars through direct health costs and reduced productivity costs. David Knowlton, president and CEO of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute and board member of the HealthWell Foundation in Gaithersburg, MD, told me preventable chronic disease costs $7.5 billion in New Jersey annually. Meanwhile, state health reforms would cost the state $1.1 billion. By simply reducing the numbers of people with chronic diseases, healthier Garden Staters could help cut healthcare costs without having to open their wallets.

This is not to bash Americans as gluttonous. Heaven knows I could drop a few pounds and devote more time to physical activity. But what's it going to take for Americans like me to actually become more active and care about our health? Sure, a diabetes or heart disease diagnosis would spark action, but by that point prevention is out the window and then it is all about changing gears to stop the progress of the disease.

The last major physical fitness craze was in the early-1980s when Olivia Newton-John and Jane Fonda hopped into their spandex and got Americans into the gym and into bad aerobics outfits. I hope we don't need a celebrity to spark a new fitness craze, but one thing is clear: Unless we get more of the population interested in their health, the trillions of dollars that will go to health reform won't stop the spiraling health costs.

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Les Masterson is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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