It is no secret that lifestyle choices affect our health. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 33 percent of all deaths in the United States can be attributed to smoking, lack of exercise, or poor diets.
The cost of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for forty years far exceeds the money spent on tobacco. Costs associated with the treatment of emphysema, lung cancer, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other complications often linked to cigarette smoke must also be considered.
A 2007 fact sheet entitled Economic Facts about U.S. Tobacco Use and Tobacco Production published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that during the years of 1997 – 2001 medical costs tied directly to cigarette smoking carried an estimated $75 billion price tag. An additional $92 billion – or $3,561 per adult smoker each year – was lost in productivity. Smoking also results in 5.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the United States.
While cigarettes are recognized as one of the more destructive life-style choices, unhealthy eating habits and the lack of exercise also can be costly.
Consider the results of the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study by the National Institutes of Health. The study followed 3,234 participants who were overweight and had pre-diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose, also called blood sugar, levels were higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes. Forty-five percent of the participants were from minority groups which are at increased risk of developing the disease.
Type 2 diabetes is a disorder that affects the way the body processes food. Normally, when a person eats food, the body breaks it down through the process of digestion into glucose, a form of sugar. This sugar passes from the digestive tract into the bloodstream where it is delivered to the cells. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is necessary for the cells to absorb the glucose.
This process is hindered in a person who has type 2 diabetes. A person with type 2 diabetes has cells that are insulin resistant or the person has reduced insulin production. Insulin resistance means the cells cannot absorb glucose which builds up in the blood and causes high blood sugar levels. Eventually, the body’s excess blood sugar overflows into the urine and passes out of the body without ever feeding the cells.
The DPP study determined that people who already had a pre-diabetic condition were able to reduce their risk of acquiring type 2 diabetes by 58 percent by losing just 5 to 7 percent of their body weight through moderate diet changes and exercising (walking) just 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Participants over 60 years of age reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 71 percent by making the same lifestyle changes.
Those who relied on the drug Metformin also lowered their risk of type 2 diabetes, but only by 31 percent.
Diabetes can also cause kidney failure, blindness, circulatory problems which can result in amputation, and cardiovascular disease.
The savings of postponing or preventing type 2 diabetes:
Independently losing 5 – 7 percent of body weight and exercising is minimal.
Interventional (medical directed) lifestyle change costs society about $8,800 per person.
Metformin (drug therapy) has an associated cost of $29,900 per QALY** saved over the life of the patient.
Making positive lifestyle changes can improve your health significantly. These improvements can save you money and years of life. The lifestyle changes described above are just two examples. Talk to your doctor about changes you can make to save your health, extend your life, and keep more money in your pocket.
**The Quality Adjusted Life Year (QALY) is a calculation that was created to measure the value of a particular medical intervention or treatment in a person’s life based on the quality of that life. A person who has perfect health for a year has a QALY of 1. A person with decreased quality of life due to disease or illness for a year would score less than 1.
For instance, a person who had a medical intervention that allowed him to live in perfect health would have one QALY for every year they lived after the treatment or procedure. A person who had a medical intervention that allowed her to live, but also experienced amputation as part of the treatment may have a QALY of .7 for every year of life because of less than perfect health.
QALYs indicate the benefits gained in terms of quality and length of life for the patient after a particular medical treatment or procedure.