200,000 Preventable Deaths A Year: Numbers That Cry Out For Action
A just-released study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that almost 200,000 preventable deaths occur each year in the U.S. from heart disease and stroke—about one-fourth of all cardiovascular deaths. This is an important report and we applaud the emphasis on prevention. We’ve known for a long time that the biggest factors influencing our health are the environments that shape our communities and impact our behaviors. Reducing preventable deaths, as well as illness and injuries, requires a comprehensive approach aimed at changing our communities and policies.
Just look at the prevention successes of the past: We reduced smoking, cut injuries and deaths from car crashes, and drastically lowered lead poisoning when we shifted our emphasis from telling individuals to change their behaviors to transforming the conditions and environments that enable those problems to occur. Twenty years ago, we created a tool called the Spectrum of Prevention that has been used by thousands of public health advocates and departments. It provides a framework to help them make changes in organizational practices and affect policy change in order to help people change their behavior and improve their health. More recently, healthcare institutions are partnering with public health and communities to implement prevention and save lives in the first place.
The findings from the CDC come at a time of mounting political pressure to back away from efforts to change community conditions and policies and to focus instead on individual responsibility. We can and must resist that pressure, as PI’s Rob Waters notes in his latest post on Forbes.com. In his blog, Rob explores the social and environmental factors that shape health for everyone and that create vastly different outcomes for different groups of Americans. He writes:
Earlier this year, another paper, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, noted that children living in the poorest neighborhoods of Cincinnati were 88 times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma emergencies than were children from the area’s wealthiest neighborhoods. These same low-income neighborhoods where roaches, rats and mold spores flourish, causing children to wheeze and gasp, are the very places where fast-food joints and liquor stores abound, where grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables are AWOL, where parks and playgrounds, if they exist, are run down and poorly maintained, where the streets are too violent and unsafe for parents to let their kids play outside.
These are the realities that continue to create two Americas—one with ready access to the conditions that lead to good health; the other struggling to survive amidst an ocean of social problems that make healthy living a daunting quest.
We know we can do better, and communities around the country are proving it—by bringing mobile farmer’s markets to inner-city neighborhoods, by starting walking clubs that support people to connect and get healthy physical activity, by redesigning neighborhoods so they encourage people to walk and ride bicycles. Government needs to be part of the solution—and with the Prevention and Public Health Fund, it is. In the past three years, the Fund has helped states, cities and tribes across the country create safe, walkable streets, promote healthy food environments, support worksite wellness, help children get after-school exercise and reduce people’s exposure to tobacco.
We have the answers. We know what works. 200,000 deaths can be prevented—and that’s just from heart disease. We need to keep pushing for healthy communities—and to bridge the gaps that create healthy and unhealthy Americas.