Prevention offers big health payoffs |

Prevention offers big health payoffs

Jason Eberhart-Phillips

If there were a few easy steps you could take to improve your health, would you do it?

A new report shows if Americans increased the use of five simple and fairly inexpensive tools to prevent disease we could save more than 100,000 lives every year and improve the everyday health for millions of others.

In El Dorado County this translates to more than 60 lives saved each year.

The report calculates the health benefits to the American people if the use of proven methods of preventing disease were increased from current levels to 90 percent. The biggest health gains would come from just five preventive services:

Daily aspirin: The report estimates that 45,000 additional lives would be saved each year if we increased to 90 percent the portion of adults who discuss with their physicians the benefits of taking aspirin daily to prevent heart disease. Aspirin is cheap and readily available, but fewer than half of adults who should be taking it daily report using it consistently for extended periods.

Men over 40, women over 50 and certain younger persons with risk factors for heart disease should speak to their health care providers now about taking aspirin every day as a way to cut their risk of heart attacks.

Smoking cessation: About 42,000 additional lives would be saved each year if 90 percent of smokers were advised by a health professional to quit and offered assistance. Today, only 28 percent of smokers nationally receive such services.

One in five American adults still smoke, and one-third of smokers die prematurely as a result. The report estimates that about $500 per smoker could be saved in downstream medical costs if health care providers spent as little as three minutes offering patients who smoke assistance with quitting.

Colorectal cancer screening: Another 14,000 lives would be saved each year if 90 percent of adults over 50 were up to date with any of the recommended screening methods for colorectal cancer. Today, fewer than 50 percent of such adults are up to date with bowel cancer screening.

Colorectal cancer kills about 57,000 Americans each year. People over 50 should discuss the options for screening with their physicians.

Flu vaccination: An additional 12,000 lives would be saved each year if 90 percent of adults aged 50 and older were immunized against flu annually. Today, just 37 percent of such adults get an annual flu shot.

Influenza kills an average of 36,000 Americans each year and causes more than 200,000 others to be hospitalized. This year abundant supplies of the flu vaccine are expected.

Breast cancer screening: Finally, 3,700 more lives would be saved each year if 90 percent of women over 40 had a mammogram every one or two years. Today, 67 percent of women have had a mammogram in the past two years, down from 69 percent in 2005.

Breast cancer kills about 40,000 American women each year. Mammography helps catch breast cancer early, when tumors are small and easier to treat.

The report was issued in August by the National Commission on Prevention Priorities, a blue-ribbon panel of public health physicians, researchers, health care executives and health policy experts convened by the non-profit Partnership for Prevention.

You know the saying about an ounce of prevention. Ask your health care provider if you could benefit from any of these services.

– Jason Eberhart-Phillips, M.D., is the El Dorado County Health Officer. He can be reached at

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