Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Reducing Health Care Costs Using Lifestyle Interventions

Health care costs in the United States are rising to epidemic levels, and there is no simple solution to this problem. Advancing technology, an aging population, and lack of point-of-care pricing information are partially to blame. Lifestyle habits also have been shown to have an effect on many of the expensive disease conditions in the United States. An article recently published in the May 1 issue of American Family Physician, titled "Diet and exercise in the treatment of hyperlipidemia" by Robert B. Kelly, discusses how lifestyle changes can lower our risk for hyperlipidemia, a disease linked to heart attacks, stroke, and other costly ailments. It is worth our money and time to review some of the points made in the article and how they apply to diseases in general.

Some of the changes discussed in the article include increasing certain foods and supplements in the diet, such as tree nuts, mono- and polyunsaturated fats, and low amounts of alcohol, as well as decreasing overall fat and carbohydrate intake. Regular aerobic exercise of 120 minutes per week also reduces cholesterol levels.

Lifestyle-focused interventions are often associated with a high level of inconvenience; however, this article shows that many of them require minimal effort and may simply require checking a food label or making an additional purchase. Also of note is that the recommendations are quite specific: for example, it is not enough to run for a random amount of time per week; rather, 120 minutes per week provides the most benefit.

How does this information reach the general public? There are many community-based programs across the nation that promote lifestyle changes in a fun and educational manner. Physicians are being increasingly urged to promote lifestyle changes rather than over-relying on expensive prescription drugs. And consumers are making more of an effort to learn about healthier habits on the TV and Internet.

As health care costs are projected to rise over the upcoming years, lifestyle modifications will become an important, cost-effective way of improving overall health without tipping the bill. Dr. Kelly's article is an introduction to how simple changes can lead to large health benefits across all states.

Vikas Kumar recently completed his medical degree at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

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