Community-Based Health Prevention Programs Promote Long-Term Savings

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , September 22, 2009

A new compendium of community based prevention programs released Monday by the Trust for America's Health and The New York Academy of Medicine is designed to help show how certain types of preventive services can yield substantial net savings—"largely because the initial costs are low and the long-term benefits are large," said Jeff Levi, PhD, the Trust's executive director in New York.

Last year, the Trust released a report that found that an investment of $10 per person per year in proven community based programs—to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent smoking and other tobacco use—could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years, Levi said. This is a return of $5.60 for every $1 spent.

The new report is sending a message that "a strong evidence base [exists] for prevention efforts . . . as we move toward the goal line of the healthcare reform debate," said Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, the Academy's president. "We do believe that there will be significant improvements in health and significant savings for the health systems by really integrating these kinds of proposals into any healthcare reform proposal."

For instance, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes account for 36.6% of deaths in the United States, but this could be significantly reduced by changing just three risk factors—decreasing smoking, increasing exercise, and improving eating habits, Boufford said.

Despite the high rates of preventable death, investment in prevention has been "historically modest in this country—accounting for only 4% of all healthcare expenditures," said Boufford. "The good news is that community based prevention programs work. Well designed community interventions can change behavior. They help people take responsibility for their health and make healthy choices that reduce both the incidence and severity of disease."

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