Prevention best for health care

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 30, 2008

WESSON – Mississippi’s top public health official touted theimportance of preventative medicine and health practices incombating the state’s most prevalent health conditions Monday nightat Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Mississippi State Department of Health State Health Officer Dr.Ed Thompson used national statistics and his own extensivebackground to show how preventative medicine must take precedenceover treatment in the coming years if Mississippi is to lower itshigh national rankings in conditions like diabetes, obesity, infantmortality and even car accidents. Thompson was the first speaker inthe school’s lecture series this year.

“In the 20th century, we added about 30 years to our expectedlife span in the United States and prevention accounts for all ofbut 5 percent of that,” Thompson said. “Cancer, heart disease andeven accidents – we can prevent all of that.”

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Thompson displayed slides of the latest national statistics thatshowed Mississippi as the first- or highly-ranked state in severalunwanted categories.

According to figures compiled by the Centers for Disease Controland Prevention, Mississippi ranks first in heart disease, second inaccidents and sixth in cancer rates – all of which can be curbed bypreventative medicine and awareness, he said.

Thompson compared the number of state and national deaths to thecasualty lists of wars to prove his point. He said 413,000Americans were killed in action during all of World War II, while440,000 die every year from tobacco-related illnesses.

Almost a quarter of all adult Mississippians smoke, he said.

Similarly, 112,000 Americans die from complications stemmingfrom obesity each year – almost twice the amount killed inapproximately 10 years fighting in Vietnam. Mississippi has thehighest national rate of diabetes.

“Sixty-eight thousand Americans died in Vietnam, and that numberalmost tore this country apart,” Thompson said. “And yet we accept112,000 deaths from obesity each year.”

Aside from the health-improving and life-increasing effects thatpreventative measures such as exercise, healthy eating and quittingsmoking would have on overall state and national health, Thompsonalso pointed to the economic benefits of living healthy.

As of 2005, 16 percent of the gross domestic product is spent onhealth care, he said. The number is projected to rise to 18 percentby 2010 and 20 percent by 2015.

“Twenty percent of every dollar spent on sickness care – wecan’t sustain that,” Thompson predicted. “Health care is a completemisnomer – it’s not health care, it’s sickness care. No country inthe world can spend that much money on sickness care. Preventativemedicine can reduce those costs.”

On the personal level, Thompson went back into his manystatistics to show individual expenditures on health care. A personwith diabetes spends an estimated $13,243 per year on health care,while a person without the disease spends an estimated $2,500.

Eleven percent of Mississippians knowingly have diabetes, hesaid, with an unknown number who are unaware that they have thedisease. One in three children born in 2000 – this year’sthird-graders – will develop diabetes, Thompson said.

Diabetes, he said, is one of the most preventable diseases. Hesaid 90 percent of diabetes-related blindness can be prevented, 85percent of amputations and 33 percent of kidney failures can bestopped beforehand.

Fortunately for Mississippians, their home state has a proactivehealth system with a unique operating style that allows it greaterresponse, Thompson said.

The state department of health operates all of Mississippi’scounty health departments directly, and all the employees are stateemployees. The county simply owns the building.

Thompson said state management allows the department to dispatchits employees to areas as needed without jurisdictional concernsand implement new health measures uniformly.

“It gives us a good deal of authority to implement policyquickly,” he said. “We can say Drug A is not as good as Drug B -stop using A and use B – and we don’t have to persuade anyone.”

The state health department operated on a $300 million budgetduring the last fiscal year, employing 2,100 employees in 109county offices. Thompson said the department is working with theLegislature to secure further funding to hire more employees andincrease the department’s capabilities.

And, unlike the situation in most states, Thompson doesn’t haveto worry about getting on the governor’s bad side. Mississippi isone of 35 states that does not have a governor-appointed statehealth officer, meaning the state’s top health official is nothired and fired every time there is a change at the governor’soffice.

“The average tenure of state health officers in the U.S. is twoto three years,” Thompson said. “It’s tough to do five-yearstrategic planning if your term is going to be two to threeyears.”