Opinion

Letnick: Government programs tackling problem of chronic disease

According to the World Health Organization, 80 per cent of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes are preventable.

This is a fact that should make all who care about the sustainability of our health care system sit up and take notice.

Think how expensive it is to treat chronic diseases and a path to sustainability starts to become apparent.

As it stands now, approximately 80 per cent of MSP, Pharmacare and acute care budgets are consumed by 34 per cent of the population.

With current technology, we cannot eliminate all chronic diseases, but given the serious economic and societal impact of doing nothing, we must make every effort to reduce their frequency and severity.

First we need to look at what causes chronic disease.

Genetic factors play a part in some cases. But there are many other major influences contributing to the epidemic of chronic diseases, including smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, obesity and poor nutrition.

Many are complex issues that will require sustained, long-term societal effort to alleviate.

We’ve all heard the old saying, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

It’s time now for all of us to take it to heart (in some cases literally)—because prevention is the first step to chronic disease management.

Our government has made reducing the incidences and severity of chronic diseases a priority, both to improve the quality of life for British Columbians and to maintain a sustainable public health care system.

Governments around the world have come to recognize there are social determinants of health in the general population.

People with mental illness also need to be addressed if we are to make significant progress on reducing the root cause of many chronic illnesses.

Poverty can lead to the early departure of children from home and high school, propagating the cycle of poverty through poor education.

This also leads to bad food choices and malnutrition, contributing to an increase in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and certain kinds of cancer.

Economic growth at all levels will help reduce chronic illness in our society.

If we are going to address the sustainability of our health care system, we must also work hard to help people make healthy choices.

In order to make that easier, we have introduced initiatives such as free nutrition information through Dietician Services, which is available by phone and translated in 130 languages through HealthLink BC.

Anybody who wants to learn how to make healthier eating choices can do so simply by dialling 811.

Our government has also banned junk food in vending machines in schools and government buildings.

We also banned the use of trans fats in the preparation of food in restaurants and schools. Another important measure has been to eliminate smoking in indoor public places.

Another positive step has been the creation of ActNow BC, a program which is nationally recognized as a leader in promoting healthy living and chronic disease prevention.

We’re also establishing ActNow BC seniors’ community parks to help seniors stay mobile, physically active and healthy.

If we are going to significantly reduce the incidence of chronic disease, we must build on the progress we have made over the past 10 years.

It is an effort that will require action both by government and British Columbians.

The sustainability of our beloved health care system depends on it.

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