Lately not a day goes that you don’t hear a heated discussion about the state of health care in America. Health care costs have been rising for years. Expenditures in the United States on health care surpassed $2.2 trillion in 2007, more than three times the $714 billion spent in 1990, and over eight times the $253 billion spent in 1980. So what’s driving health care costs?

Chronic disease- It is estimated that health care costs for chronic disease treatment account for over 75% of national health expenditures.Prescription drugs and technology- Spending on prescription drugs and new medical technologies has been cited as the primary contributor to the increase in overall health spending.Aging of the population- Health expenses rise with age; however, experts agree that aging of the population contributes minimally to the high growth rate of health care spending.Administrative costs- Estimated to be 7% of health care expenditures (marketing, billing) and much lower in the Medicare program (<2%).

Everyone wants to cut health care costs. This was done once, by reducing patient service and care (have you ever actually SEEN your doctor for more than 10 minutes?), now the simple answer may be to cut down on the biggest offender- chronic disease. This biggest cost drives the others (except aging, so there’s one in the plus column).

Cancer, diabetes, heart attack and stroke account for the majority of chronic illnesses that cost Americans billions of dollars and countless lives each year. Four lifestyle factors that are well within most individuals’ control may reduce diabetes by 93%, heart attack by 81%, stroke by 50% and cancer by 36%, according to a new study conducted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. These factors are:

Never smokingHaving a Body Mass Index (BMI) below 30 (thin, normal or slightly overweight but not obese)Exercising at least three and a half hours a weekFollowing a healthy diet, which the researchers defined as high fruit and vegetable consumption combined with limited meat intake

The old saying- “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” -looks to be pretty spot on. Something needs to be done and the good news is that the solution lies within the control of most people. If, as a nation, we want to reduce health care costs, the greatest single impact is to take action and control of our own health. I see too many people going out of their way, day-to-day, to harm themselves physically. I know this is not what goes through their mind, but it is the reality. People take better care of their cars than their bodies. What person in their right mind would neglect their car (never change the oil, rotate the tires, perform basic maintenance) and then have the AUDACITY when it breaks down to exclaim, “This is ridiculous! The government needs to fix this car. I cannot afford to do it on my own…it is my right as an American to have car coverage!” What do most people do to keep themselves roadworthy?

Consider this: “The fundamental nature of medical risk in the United States has changed over the past 20 to 30 years—shifting away from random, infrequent, and catastrophic events driven by accidents, genetic predisposition or contagious disease and toward behavior- and lifestyle-induced chronic conditions. Treating them, and the serious medical events they commonly induce, now costs more than treating the more random, catastrophic events that health insurance was originally designed to cover. What’s more, the number of people afflicted by chronic conditions continues to grow at an alarming rate.” (This quote from the McKinsey Quarterly business journal.)

What to do? It is really pretty simple.

Don’t smoke. If you do, stop.If you are overweight, lose weight. Anything is better than nothing. Losing 10% of your bodyweight if you are significantly overweight will dramatically improve your health and reduce or eliminate many lifestyle health issues, reduce or eliminate your need for prescription drugs (sorry big Pharma) and add years to your life and likely life to your years.Become more physically active (doesn’t have to be the gym, just MOVE!).Eat better, and eat less.

If you need guidance, we can help ( Take care of your body and yourself . . . it is your responsibility. If all Americans who could do so would, health care costs would plummet. Let insurance cover the things that you cannot foresee or prevent; don’t use it as a means to heal self-inflicted wounds. Now, what do Americans do with all that extra money?