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What’s Behind the Increase in Chronic Disease in the United States?

Wednesday 10 April 2019
7 minute(s) read

Table of Contents

I. What is chronic disease?

II. Causes of chronic disease

III. Why are chronic diseases on the rise?

IV. The cost of chronic disease

a. The economic cost of chronic illnesses in America

b. Living with chronic disease

V. How to reduce the financial impact of chronic diseases

VI. Chronic disease prevention

a. Quit smoking

b. Eat healthier

c. Be active

d. Cut down on drinking

e. Try these other tips

What is chronic disease?

The CDC defines chronic diseases as medical conditions that last for more than one year. Chronic diseases also require ongoing medical care with medications like ADVAIR® and may limit what people can do in everyday life. Some examples include:

  • Cancers
  • COPD and other chronic lung diseases
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Depression and other mental illnesses
  • Diabetes [1]

Unlike infectious, short-term diseases like the flu, common cold, and measles, chronic diseases like cancers, COPD, and depression typically have no cures or are very difficult to treat.

While these diseases may not be constantly brought up in the news or maybe rarely discussed around your neighborhood, chronic diseases are not uncommon. According to the CDC, six out of 10 American adults have one, and four out of 10 American adults have two or more of these long-term illnesses. [2]These numbers make chronic diseases one of the leading causes of death and disability, and they aren’t decreasing. [3]Want to learn how to decrease your chance of getting a chronic disease? Read on!

a cheeseburger

Causes of Chronic Disease

While genetics and environment may make some people more likely to develop chronic diseases than others, most causes of chronic diseases come from lifestyle choices. This means you can prevent or at least delay many conditions. Causes of chronic diseases include the following: 

  • Smoking
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Alcohol abuse

Why are chronic diseases on the rise?

While CDC notes that “the rates of cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths continue to decline each year,” the same cannot be said for the number of new cases and deaths. Those two aspects have actually been increasing. And CDC believes the cause to be because the United States’ population is “growing and aging each year.” [4]

Chronic diseases like cancer are strongly associated with old age. In the past, people died young from infectious diseases like tuberculosis and smallpox. They never made it to an age when cancers and heart disease could begin developing. Now, thanks to better medical technology and preventive methods, more people are living old enough to develop terminal chronic diseases.

It doesn’t help that throughout their lengthy lives, people have more of a chance to develop and maintain unhealthy activities:

  • More people have taken up desk jobs that seriously limit their opportunity to exercise.
  • A fast-paced society encourages people to cook less and eat out. Restaurant and fast food are significantly less healthy than home-cooked meals.
  • As people become wealthier, they can afford more luxuries like tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.
  • In a workaholic culture, sleeping enough, self-care, and taking a break for mental health is often stigmatized as being lazy.

Elsewhere, a Western diet high in unhealthy fat and meat that can lead to more chronic diseases is now spreading even to less industrialized countries. [5]

The Cost of Chronic Disease 

Chronic conditions cost money, time, and energy to both the individual and society.

a person holding money

a. The Economic Cost of Chronic Illnesses in America

Even the average, healthy taxpayer has to pay the price of chronic disease:

    • 90% of what the U.S.A. spends on healthcare is for chronic and mental illnesses.
    • Obesity costs $147 billion a year in America. One in five American children are obese, and one in three American adults is obese.
    • Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death for Americans. These illnesses cost our health-care system $199 billion per year and $131 billion in lost work productivity.
    • If we could prevent people from smoking or successfully encourage smokers to quit, the U.S. health-care system could save $170 billion a year.
    • Excessive alcohol intake is responsible for one in 10 deaths of working-age American adults. In 2010, alcohol abuse cost the U.S. economy $249 billion, or $2.05 a drink. [6]
    • In a 2016 paper, researchers estimated that “between 2011 and 2030, the cumulative economic output loss associated with mental disorders is thereby projected to US$16.3 trillion worldwide.” This is comparable to the economic output loss of cardiovascular disease, and it surpasses that of cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease. [7]

b. Living with Chronic Disease

Everyday life for a person with one or two chronic illnesses can be significantly more challenging than for a healthy person:

  • Treatment is expensive. The cost of therapy, medication, and other treatments may not always be covered by insurance.
  • The ability to work is compromised. In addition to a higher cost of living, people with chronic conditions may have less earning power if their disease prevents them from working regularly.
  • People with disabilities and diseases are stigmatized. Many chronic conditions remain misunderstood. People are stigmatized as lazy if they take time off to take care of themselves.
  • Chronic illnesses can instill conflict. Conflict can arise between spouses, caretakers and patients, parents and children, and more as they figure out the best way to deal with the illness.
  • Even physical chronic illnesses can have a significant negative impact on mental health. Not being able to work, go to school, or socialize with one’s loved ones in conventional ways can be extremely stressful.

How to Reduce the Financial Impact of Chronic Diseases

While Americans pay high prices for health-care, there are increasingly more affordable ways to manage chronic illness thanks to a globalized economy.

For example, many Americans turn to Canada for their medication. Before the Internet, this meant that they frequently crossed the American border to shop. While a long trek for just prescription drugs, it was necessary for many as some drugs like ADVAIR® have cheaper generic counterparts that are available in Canada.

But nowadays, patients can access online international and Canadian pharmacies. Canadian pharmacy referral services like Canada Med Pharmacy can help Americans access the treatment they need without having to make a long journey across the American border into Canada.

Chronic Disease Prevention

The good news is many chronic conditions can be prevented or delayed through simple lifestyle changes. The following lifestyle changes are recommended by the CDC:

a. Quit smoking.

  • Smoking increases your risk of developing heart and lung disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
  • Casual cigarette use is still dangerous. Social smokers have been found to have similar blood pressure and cholesterol stats as regular smokers.
  • Smoking-related cancers can affect the mouth, larynx, esophagus, throat, and lungs. [8]

a family walking together

b. Eat healthier.

  • In addition to the obvious fruits and vegetables, healthy eating can include frozen and canned vegetables and cooking methods like baking and grilling.
  • Eating healthy does not necessarily mean giving up on your favorite foods. Simply cut down on frequency and portion size, or substitute unhealthy ingredients for healthier ones.
  • One of the biggest culprits of unnecessary calories is sugary drinks. Choose to drink water over soda, juice, and lattes.[9]

c. Be active.

  • It is recommended that you do 150 minutes a week of moderately intense activity or 75 minutes a week of high-intensity exercise.
  • You don’t need to dedicate an hour to the gym. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition, exercising in small, 10-minute increments throughout the day count. These increments can include brisk walking. [10]

d. Cut down on drinking.

  • It is recommended that women drink no more than one drink a day and men should not drink more than two drinks a day. This is not an average but within a session of drinking.
  • There are claims that moderate alcohol consumption is beneficial, but even this has been questioned. If you don’t drink, it is not recommended that you start. [11]

e. Try these other tips.

  • Know and understand your family’s medical history. You are more likely to develop certain conditions if a family member has experienced it. If you are at risk for a disease, get screened early.
  • Getting enough sleep and enough rest.
  • Doing things to enhance your mental health. Be social, engage in activities you enjoy, and make time to relax.

People are living longer than ever before, but humans are by no means immortal! Thankfully, there’s a lot you can do to delay and prevent illness. Hopefully, a few changes in habit can enable you to live the longest and healthiest life possible.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.