WASHINGTON — Americans’ life expectancy may be 78 years, but a new report says only 69 of those years tend to be healthy ones — and the problems can start long before people reach a doctor’s office.
The Obama administration is releasing a plan Thursday that calls for preventing disease and injury, with a greater emphasis on creating healthier homes, communities, foods, roads and workplaces.
Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said the goal is to make “prevention a part of our daily lives.”
Consider: Heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer. But research shows that if you can reach the age of 50 without any of the biggest risks — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes or obesity — you have less than a 1 in 10 chance of ever developing heart disease, said Dr. Barry Franklin of the American Heart Association, which supports the government’s effort.
But too many people live in communities without sidewalks, where getting physical activity may mean driving to a gym. Under the new prevention plan, communities should consider strategies as simple as building more sidewalks so people can get a start on fitness by merely walking around their neighborhood, Franklin said.
Called the National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy, the plan is required by President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Nationally, it’s a first-ever commitment from 17 federal agencies, including those not traditionally involved in health care, to adopt policies making it easier for people to make healthier everyday choices, said public health expert Jeff Levi, who chairs an advisory group helping to oversee the effort. But it also urges private partnerships to make community-level changes.
“A lot of this doesn’t necessarily require new money, but giving appropriate direction to how existing money is spent,” he said.
The health care law also provided $17 billion for grants to communities that seek to improve public health and prevention, including some of these types of programs. Republicans are trying to repeal the money, so far without success.