Prevention, the Right Path to Better Health

An important part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare,” is the inclusion of preventive healthcare measures in most insurance policies. According to the new legislation, healthcare plans must offer services like vaccinations, screening tests and other benefits at no extra cost to subscribers, including co-payments and deductibles.

Taking More Preventive Measures Would Help
Improve the Health Status of Millions of Americans

While expanding our traditional healthcare system from treating diseases to preventing them in the first place may be a step in the right direction, it is not altogether clear to what extent Americans will take advantage of these new opportunities. Research shows that more people are paying closer attention to health issues and are trying to make personal diet and lifestyle improvements than just a few years ago. And yet, ignorance and confusion about what proactive healthcare measures would concretely entail remains prevalent.

One of the reasons for this may be that many Americans seem overly optimistic about their health status. A survey commissioned by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) found that over 60 percent of respondents considered themselves to be in good or excellent health, while only 16 percent thought the same about their fellow-citizens. A majority also believed they would live well into their 80s or longer, hoping to exceed today’s average life span by several years.

The reality, of course, looks much bleaker. According to statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), two-thirds of adults are overweight and more than one-third are obese, with many affected by related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

The disconnect between how healthy Americans think they are and what is actually happening to them may come from messages sent out by the media, said Geoffrey Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, the institute that conducted the PhRMA-sponsored study. People feel healthier when they sort of follow the advice they are given here and there. How much they really understand the connections, however, is a different story.

Based on findings from Harvard University Medical School, many Americans think about changing their lifestyle for the better. And when it comes to health recommendations, most people know the drill: Exercise regularly, eat a balanced and nutritious diet, stay within a healthy weight range, get enough sleep, reduce stress, don’t smoke, don’t engage in alcohol or drug abuse, get annual physical check-ups, and keep your mind sharp. All of these are preventive measures that can significantly improve people’s health and quality of life.

But most of this is also easier said than done. Poor habits are hard to break, even for those who are keenly aware that their choices are less than optimal.

The path to lasting changes is rarely straightforward, the Harvard researchers say. Most of us relapse after a while, which is not surprising and should not discourage anyone from trying again until they succeed. And even then, there are no guarantees that the improvements last forever. The most strong-minded and disciplined people encounter failure now and then. What matters more is not to lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is staying in good health as much and for as long as possible.

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