When compared with other countries, the health system within the U.S. continues to fall behind in healthy outcomes. This is surprising, considering the enormity of private and public resources devoted to its health care system. According to the Center for Disease Control, chronic diseases are responsible for 70% of deaths annually, and treatments for chronic diseases account for 86% of the country’s health care costs. While chronic conditions and diseases, such as cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease are extremely costly to the nation’s health care system, these conditions are also among the most preventable health problems.

Preventative health care is a popular topic within the health care sector, particularly as health care costs in the U.S. continue to rise due to the prevalence of preventable, chronic conditions. Nurses and nurse leaders play an important part in disease prevention, by educating and helping patients to engage in healthier lifestyles. Some of the most common disease prevention strategies currently being practiced within the nursing field include:

Routine Screenings

While routine screening tests can vary depending on family history, current risk factors for specific diseases, as well as age and sex, they can aid with the early detection of a chronic disease when patients are asymptomatic. Nurses can play a key role by helping to educate their patients, community, family, and friends on the benefits of routine screenings. The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends that routine screenings be done for the following conditions:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • High cholesterol
  • Prostate cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity
  • Colorectal cancer
  • High blood pressure

Regular Physical Activity

Nurse educators are also integral in the promotion of regular physical activity as a disease prevention strategy. Regular physical activity has the ability to help prevent high blood pressure, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart conditions. Different levels of physical activity are recommended for various age groups:

  • Adults – Encouraged to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity throughout the week, including muscle strengthening and aerobic activities.
  • Children and Teens – An hour or more of activity each day is recommended, including bone strengthening, muscle strengthening, and aerobic activities.

Despite the many well-known advantages of physical activity, most children and adults do not engage in enough activity to enjoy the health benefits. This sedentary lifestyle is even more prevalent in older adults, with more than one-third of patients over age 65 being inactive. When patients do engage in regular physical activity, it can offer the following health benefits:

  • Lowering the risk of developing high blood pressure
  •  Aiding in the maintenance of a healthy weight
  • Promoting overall psychological well-being
  • Reducing anxiety and depression
  • Helping build and maintain healthy joints, muscles, and bones
  • Lowering the risk of developing certain types of cancers
  • Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Lowering the risk of premature death from heart disease or other health conditions

Healthy Diet

Nurses are well aware of the effects of diet on the risk for chronic diseases, and multiple studies continue to show that diet has important health implications that cannot be ignored. To help prevent chronic diseases, nurses and other medical professionals can educate patients on healthy eating habits. Aspects of a healthy diet that should be addressed include:

  • Ensuring generous consumption of vegetables and fruits to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases and aid in weight control, which can also further reduce health risks.
  • Reducing the intake of trans and saturated fats to help reduce serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Swapping out these unhealthy fats for unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, helps to increase serum high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and may help to prevent ventricular arrhythmias.
  • Limiting excessive caloric intake, as being overweight or obese is a risk factor for many chronic diseases.

Education for Disease Prevention

More than ever, health care recipients have become well-informed consumers. Patients want to understand their conditions and how these conditions impact their lives. Nurses can get involved in transdisciplinary care to ensure that patients are educated and involved in disease management, helping them to make informed decisions. When patients take ownership of their own disease process, it can help reduce future problems, such as hospital readmissions.

Educating the public is essential to the future of disease prevention and health care success. Over time, educational services surrounding chronic illness prevention and management have the potential to improve the overall health of patients in America, while saving billions of dollars in health care costs. Nurses will continue to have a vital role in disease prevention and patient care, helping to catch health problems, implement change for better health, and educate patients on how they can reduce the risk factors for chronic diseases.

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The Four Domains of Chronic Disease Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

About Chronic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, RN Journal

Preventing and Managing Chronic Disease: Ontario's Framework, Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors, National Center for Biotechnology Information

The Power of Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Federal Access to Care Issues, American Heart Association

Access to Health Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Health Screening, U.S. National Library of Medicine

Physical Activity Fundamental to Preventing Disease, Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation

Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. 2nd edition., National Center for Biotechnology Information

Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, National Academies Press

The dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) clinical trial: implications for lifestyle modifications in the treatment of hypertensive patients., National Center for Biotechnology Information

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