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Simple Lifestyle Changes Can Help You Avoid Chronic Disease

By Dr. Jeffrey S. Bland

They're all around you: people suffering from, or at risk of developing, lifestyle-related chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease or arthritis. Perhaps you're one of them. In fact, in the United States, these chronic diseases have reached epidemic proportions.

Consider the following statistics: One in three American adults is obese, and one in five children is overweight and likely to carry their health-related problems into adulthood. Twenty-one million Americans have diabetes, 6 million of whom don't even know they have it. Additionally, one in five people (54 million) has metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that predisposes them to the development of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions. One in five people has arthritis; $1.5 trillion is spent annually on the diagnosis and treatment of chronic illnesses; and seven out of 10 people die prematurely due to chronic diseases.

image - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Pretty depressing statistics - and that's only in the United States. Similar statistics have emerged from Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, South America and developing nations. For example, in Europe, preventable chronic diseases are responsible for 77 percent of all diseases and 86 percent of all deaths. More than a third of Canadians ages 12 and older have one or more chronic health conditions. In 2005, the combined economic losses of China, the Russian Federation and India totaled more than $38 billion as a result of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In the vast majority of Latin American countries, chronic diseases are now the leading cause of premature mortality and disability. In 2002, they accounted for two out of three deaths. In lower-income countries, the adoption of Western lifestyles has led to a rise in the incidence of chronic diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that within 10 years, deaths from infectious diseases will decrease by 4 percent, while deaths from chronic diseases will increase by 20 percent.

Alarming as these numbers might be, even more disturbing is that most people with chronic disease suffer unnecessarily, since these are, for the most part, preventable conditions. Simple lifestyle modifications, such as healthier eating and regular moderate exercise, have the potential to significantly reduce the world's chronic disease burden.

Researchers in Canada have estimated that reducing salt intake by less than 1 teaspoon per day would reduce the incidence of high blood pressure by 30 percent and save up to $430 million per year due to a reduced need for physician visits, laboratory tests and medications. Implementing Stanford University's six-week Arthritis Self-Help Course among just 10,000 people with arthritis could save $2.6 million over four years, primarily through reduced physician visits. Reducing systolic blood pressure by as little as 12-13 mm Hg could produce a 21-percent reduction in coronary heart disease, a 37-percent reduction in stroke, a 25-percent reduction in total cardiovascular disease deaths and a 13-percent reduction in overall death rates in the U.S.

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