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updated: 12/16/2013 12:48 PM

Lifestyle choices affect health care costs

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I recently attended a medical conference in Las Vegas. One of the presenters, Michael Roizen M.D., presented some rather disturbing statistics on health care in the United States.

Dr. Roizen is the chief medical officer for the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland clinic. What he presented about health care in the United States is consistent with what I have written about for many years and his statistics were quite sobering.

According to Dr. Roizen's presentation, unless we change our lifestyles we are destined to have a very different medical system than the one we currently have. Significant changes in our food, exercise and stress levels are needed to avoid rationing and limited medical care.

Although many believe that the American health care system is the best in the world, in actuality we rank at the bottom of all of the technologically advanced countries.

We are definitely the most expensive health care system in the world, and over the next several decades the amount of money that is spent on health care will be our primary cost, exceeding 15 percent of the gross domestic product. That is a lot of money spent on health care with very little return.

Why does the American health care system cost so much?

It is because 87 percent of the total health care expenditure is for the management of chronic disease.

Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of this expense (67 percent) is for people under 65. The effect of chronic disease is quite striking. It accounts for almost 90 percent of all hospital admissions. Over 90 percent of prescription costs are for the treatment of chronic disease. An astonishing 76 percent of all visits to a physician involve the treatment of chronic illness.

The medical cost for all of this therapy is measured in billions of dollars per year. Fortunately, almost 75 percent of chronic illnesses can be improved or cured by changing only four aspects of our lifestyle.

The four aspects of lifestyle that need to change in order for health benefits to be seen are: stop smoking (including secondhand tobacco smoke); be better in our food choices and portion size; exercise on a regular basis; and, most importantly, reduce our stress.

These are lifestyle changes that we have total control over.

No medication, supplements or therapy, traditional or nontraditional, can substitute for improving our lifestyle choices.

Unfortunately, the traditional medical system is not well-designed to promote and monitor lifestyle choices. It is designed to measure disease and minimize symptoms. So a change in lifestyle is something that has to happen at the grass-roots level.

The greatest impacts on health care costs are determined by your lifestyle choices. Unless we make some significant changes in our lifestyle, the future of American medicine, regardless of whatever policies the government or insurance industries have in place, will be the rationing of medical care (it is already happening now).

There simply is not enough money to continue paying for health care the way it is currently structured.

• Patrick Massey MD, Ph.D. is the medical director for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Alexian Brothers Hospital Network and president of ALT-MED Medical and Physical Therapy, 1544 Nerge Road, Elk Grove Village.

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