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American Heart Association Wants Policies That Prevent Disease and Help the Economy
By Jennifer Warner
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD
July 25, 2011 -- Preventing heart disease may be critical to the health of the nation's economy as well as its population, according to a new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA).
Researchers say the annual direct and indirect costs of heart disease topped $450 billion last year and are expected to rise to more than $1 trillion in the next 20 years.
"What we spend on cardiovascular disease is not sustainable. But we can afford to prevent it. Ultimately, we can't afford not to," says researcher William S. Weintraub, MD, chairman of the committee who wrote the AHA policy statement, in a news release.
The statement summarizes recent research on the value of heart disease prevention and calls for individuals and local, state, and federal policy makers to take action as a sound investment in the future financial and physical health of the country.
- Every dollar spent on building walking or biking trails saves $3 in medical costs.
- Companies with comprehensive worksite wellness programs and healthy work environments have less absenteeism, greater productivity, and lower health care costs.
- A nationwide plan to cut back on the amount of salt in the food supply to support an average intake of 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day may reduce blood pressure by 25% and save $26 billion in health care costs annually.
"People often don't realize the power to stay healthy is in their own hands," says Weintraub, chair of cardiology and cardiology section chief at Christiana Care Health System in Newark, Del. "But it's not something many individuals or families can do alone. It takes fundamental changes from society as a whole."
Preventing Heart Disease
Researchers say deaths from heart disease have declined by more than 50% since peaking in the 1960s and more than half of that drop has been attributed to prevention through better management of cholesterol, blood pressure, and tobacco use.
In the statement, the AHA calls for policy makers to ensure that:
- Schools include quality physical education and opportunities for physical activity in the curriculum every day.
- School lunches include more fresh vegetables and fruits and less salt and sugar.
- Communities are built with exercise in mind and include sidewalks and bike trails.
- Less added sugars, salt, and trans fats are included in foods.
- Neighborhood stores, especially those in lower income areas, carry affordable, fresh vegetables and fruits.
- Smoking isn't allowed in restaurants, the workplace, and other indoor spaces.
- Additional taxes are added to tobacco products to further discourage use.
- Smoking-cessation programs are adequately funded.
- Increased funding is directed toward programs that eliminate health disparities.