Improving Population Health

Woman has ear examined

South Carolina continues to rank near the bottom for most health status indicators, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and overall health. The reasons for our consistently poor performance are both complicated and very simple. They include a variety of factors related to poverty, genetics, education, and investment in health services. But they also include personal decisions such as whether we choose to smoke, what we choose to eat, and if we choose to exercise.

Three out of every five South Carolina adults are either overweight or obese and therefore at increased risk for diabetes, hypertension, stroke, certain cancers, heart disease, high cholesterol, gall bladder disease, sleep apnea, depression, osteoarthritis and asthma. In 2003, obesity-related medical expenditures for adults in South Carolina were more than $1 billion, with more than half of the costs paid by Medicaid and Medicare.

In addition to making better personal decisions, we can help safeguard our own health and the health of others by understanding how germs are spread from one person to another and doing what we can to stop the spread of disease-carrying bugs. Properly covering coughs and sneezes and washing our hands frequently are easy ways to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Yet too many people don't wash their hands as often as they should.

One thing is certain – as we work to bring down the cost of health care, we can't ignore costs related to bad decisions or ignorance. We have to educate our population and change behavior. Not only can it save money, but it can also improve quality of life for so many.