U of L dean says $50 billion in annual health costs could be saved if Americans just walked more

Small changes in health behavior can have a huge impact on the public’s overall health and well-being, and during National Public Health Week discussions last week, Dr. Craig Blakely, the new dean of the University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences, talked about the important role played by public health in promoting healthy behavior, preventing disease and saving both lives and money.

Blakely pointed to obesity as an example of an emerging health-related crisis, which can be addressed with behavioral changes that make a significant difference like adding more physical activity to your day, according to a U of L release.

“If we all took exercise seriously by just walking, we could save $50 billion in cardiovascular disease-related costs,” Blakely said. “A 10 percent weight loss equals a $5,000 savings in health-related complications. A typical desk worker could lose a pound a month by standing two hours a day.”

Blakely also addressed smoking bans, which are becoming popular in Kentucky, even though the state has the highest share of smokers (29 percent) of any state, leads the nation in high-school smokers (24 percent) and spends only a minuscule portion of its tobacco revenues to fight tobacco use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If every state adopted comprehensive smoke-free policies, said Blakely, $2 billion would be saved in smoking-related deaths, lung cancer treatments and care for related health complications over the course of several years, says the release.

Blakely highlighted several other examples of public health’s potential return on investment. For example, says the release, every dollar spent on childhood immunizations saves $18 on vaccine-preventable disease-related costs, every dollar spent in prenatal care translates to $6 in health care cost savings and for every dollar spent on fluoridated water saves $20 in dental care.

Public health research will continue to find effective ways to generate these cost savings, such as finding researching how to modify environments to encourage exercise or how to send strong messages that promote regular physical activity (Read more)

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