For once, some good news: Plain and simple, prevention works.
“The message from our analysis of the data from the EPIC-Potsdam study is clear: adopting a few healthy behaviors can have a major impact on the risk of morbidity. The participants with all 4 healthy lifestyle factors had a reduced risk of major chronic disease of almost 80% compared with those with none. These results applied equally to men and women.” So say the authors of a new research report that appears in today’s issues of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
But wait a moment. As pointed out in an editorial in the same issue, this really isn’t news. We’ve known this for a long time.
So if we know so much, why can’t we do something about it? That, my friends, is the $64,000 question. Or perhaps that figure is really outdated. Today, it’s the multibillion dollar question. Just go ask the folks in
The research took a lot of effort, but is stunningly simple in its theory.
The researchers followed over 23,000 people in
After entering the study, the researchers followed the participants to see if they developed cancer, diabetes, a heart attack or a stroke.
The good news was that almost everyone had at least one healthy behavior “marker,” and only 4% had none. On the other end of the scale, 9% had practiced all four elements of a healthy lifestyle.
The impact of doing the right things for one’s health was dramatic:
- If you had all four healthy behaviors, your chance of getting a serious illness was reduced by 78%. The impact of a healthy lifestyle was the same for men and women.
- Having a BMI less than 30 had the greatest overall impact, followed by never smoking, physical activity for 3 ½ hours a week or more, and adhering to good dietary habits. Having a BMI less than 30 was a very strong protective factor with respect to diabetes.
- Never smoking exerted a stronger protective effect on heart attack and diabetes than on stroke and cancer.
- Physical activity reduced diabetes and heart attack more than cancer
- A healthy diet decreased the risk of cancer, diabetes, stroke and cancer.
- If you never smoked and had a BMI les than 30, you had a risk reduction of 78%, similar to someone who practiced all four healthy behaviors.
- You can mix and match the healthy behaviors, but all of the combinations had a benefit in reducing serious, chronic disease. The combination with a surprising effectiveness on reducing risk was physical activity and healthy diet, which was greater than the researchers had expected. Even current and former smokers reduced their risk of serious illness if they practiced other healthy behaviors.
So what does this study tell us?
First, as noted at the beginning of the blog, prevention works. No surprise there, I guess, since the authors themselves point out there have been several studies which all point in the same direction.
But it also leaves open the question that frustrates so many of us: If we know so much, why is it that we accomplish so little when it comes to diet, exercise, smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy body weight?
As the authors note, “Although improvements in some behaviors have occurred, notably the decline in the prevalence of smoking, substantial proportions of the population still engage in behaviors that are not conducive to achieving and maintaining health.”
They go on to say, “The data from the EPIC-Potsdam study show the unfulfilled potential of preventing chronic diseases. Adhering to the recommendations for the 4 lifestyle factors considered in our analyses can potential yield enormous reductions in the onset of major chronic disease such as (cardiovascular disease), diabetes and cancer…”
“Our results and these of others emphasize the importance and urgency of continuing vigorous efforts to convince people to adopt healthy lifestyles. Because the roots of these factors often originate during the formative stages of life, it is especially important to start early in teaching the important lessons concerning healthy living.”
Not exactly what I would call a news flash, but nonetheless a very important message for all of us to hear and incorporate into our daily lives.
The editorial which accompanied the article, written by David Katz, MD from the Yale University School of Medicine, points out that we have known for some time that tobacco use, diet and physical activity account for a huge number of premature deaths in the United States every year.
As noted by the writer, “If ever a matter of public importance belied the notion that knowledge is power, this decade of underutilized knowledge was it. And if we are once again to be updated in 2013 (regarding the number of premature deaths),there is little cause to think, based on our progress to date, that we will have fared much better across an informed expanse of 2 decades, although progress in tobacco control warrants honorable mention.”
Not a very ringing endorsement of our progress in helping people lead healthier lives, is it?
Some people say we are trapped by our genes. Dr. Katz points out that “even gene expression submits to the power of lifestyle…With the knowledge we have already in hand, we can nurture nature.”
“Across an expanse of policies, practices, programs, personal responsibility, and political will yet to be mustered and some cases yet to be devised—we have miles to go before we sleep.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. Now that I think about it, I have said it myself, time and again and again and again. And so have many others.
We are frustrated in our efforts to change behaviors, and clearly need to find better ways to get to the goal.
Hopefully—and this is the political message of this blog—our current national debate about health care reform will get back to the core issues facing us as a nation, one of which is how we pay for and encourage prevention.
Knowing you can reduce one’s risk of getting a serious disease by 78% to me sounds like a very powerful incentive to make changes. Now all we need is the personal and national will to get the job done.
Somehow, we need a huge attitude adjustment around prevention and healthy lifestyles.
How we get there is the billion(s) dollar question.