The UK has it right – prevention is better than cure

Health literacy

It’s a cliché but it’s true: prevention is better than cure. Not long ago, I read about the discovery of “hunger-controlling” cells by a team at Princeton University that has given medical practitioners hope that soon, there will be another way to treat obesity. But while it’s of course important to seek out new cures and treatments for common ailments, we mustn’t lose sight of the patterns of behavior and lifestyle choices that caused these problems in the first place, and how we should address them.

It seems that the UK government has recognized this, and is taking action. Earlier this week the Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, published a new long-term healthcare strategy which will argue that people must take greater responsibility for managing their own health. The numbers alone demonstrate the urgent need to take a different cause: £97bn of government money is spent on treatment, and just £8bn on prevention. As Hancock himself says, you don’t have to be an economist to see that the numbers don’t stack up.

“Prevention is about ensuring people take greater responsibility for managing their own health,” Hancock said. “It’s about people choosing to look after themselves better, staying active and stopping smoking. Making better choices by limiting alcohol, sugar, salt and fat.”

America should sit up and take notice of these comments. Because if we fail to address the underlying causes of our health crisis, we will very quickly go broke. Just as fixing a blown engine is far more time-consuming and expensive than changing the gas in your car, drugs and surgery are far less desirable than encouraging individuals to commit to living a healthy lifestyle and take responsibility for their health.

The current, reactive approach to conditions like obesity sends a terrible message to the next generation: that you can eat as much as you want, do no exercise and then, when you’re forty and your heart is failing, have a doctor rescue you with pills or surgery. Instead, we should be encouraging people to take responsibility. In return, we must do everything we can to provide people with the information they need to take charge of their health.

It’s clear that technology has to be the driver of our efforts to tackle chronic levels of health literacy, so it’s no surprise that the UK is harnessing digital technology as part of its long-term strategy. The ability of data and devices to give people targeted health advice, based on their location and lifestyle, could be a game changer for patients all over the world. And digital is at the heart of everything my company, Medical Expectations, is working to achieve. We believe that there is no better way of communicating critical information than through high quality, personalized videos.

To a large extent, discipline is a choice. It’s up to each one of us to decide if the outcome resulting from our actions is worth the price paid. I can almost guarantee that every person that has an obesity-related condition today would love to go back to the beginning and live their life differently. But as Hancock also says, “Focusing on the responsibilities of patients isn’t about penalizing people. It’s about helping them make better choices, and giving them all the support we can, because we know taking tough decisions is never easy.”

So when we look for new solutions to the obesity epidemic, let’s just remind ourselves that now, as ever, prevention is better than cure. Americans should respond accordingly.

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