Several months ago, in this space, information about Project 2020, a strategy that will save public and private dollars while helping older adults to remain healthy, was the topic.

One of the tenets of Project 2020 is evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion. The importance of disease prevention and health promotion has been the subject of investigation, research and reports. Two such reports are the Milken Institute's "An Unhealthy America and The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease" and "Prevention for a Healthier America" from the Trust for America's Health, from which much of the information in this article has been taken.

We know that the cost of health care is a burden to government, business and individuals. Health care costs have a significant effect on government through taxes; on business, affecting costs to consumers, competition in the global economy and job losses; and on individuals in affordability and access to care. Those are things that we can ill-afford, particularly considering the current economic crises.

Our health care system focuses on treating people once they have health problems, referred to by some experts as "sick care." Experts believe that health care costs will not be contained until we focus on preventing people from getting sick in the first place.

The workplace is also affected not only by the cost of health insurance, but by lost productivity.

This lost productivity is caused not only by individuals taking sick leave and caregivers staying home to provide assistance to their loved ones, but also those with chronic illness who show up for work, but may not fell well enough to perform well.

Some experts refer to this as presenteeism, and estimate that presenteeism can lead to up to 15 times greater productivity loss than absenteeism.

The three things that most influence our health are:

physical activity

nutrition (eating the right foods in the right quantity); and

if we smoke

Physical inactivity and poor nutrition lead to obesity, which leads to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, some forms of cancer, and chronic breathing problems. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and causes many types of cancer, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and chronic breathing problems.

It is clear that government, business and individuals need to do something to turn around the current focus and work on prevention and management of chronic disease. It is estimated that a $10 investment per person in proven community-based disease prevention programs could save almost $3 billion per year nationally in one to two years. Results that are hard to ignore, particularly considering the current economic climate.

The federal and state governments are already funding chronic disease prevention programs and more will be forthcoming, some through the economic stimulus act. Diabetes management and prevention and smoking cessation programs are available through health care providers, community coalitions and local Departments of Health. Offices for the Aging offer medication management information, exercise options and other health promotion activities.

So what can individuals do? Talk to your health care provider, increase your physical activity, eat the right kinds of food in the right quantities and stop smoking. Consider attending educational sessions about disease prevention. Contact your local Department of Health or other community partners and arrange a presentation for your group. Take responsibility and make responsible choices.

We can all make a difference through our own actions and supporting those of others.

Frances A. Wright is director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging.

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