The false choice of student loans and prevention

This is equally true for the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Across the United States, neighborhoods and communities are relying on the Prevention Fund to help turn the tide on the costly epidemic of chronic disease that is undermining our economic and national security. It is one of the best and most comprehensive tools we have to stem our growing chronic disease rates and skyrocketing healthcare costs. One in six people across the country have already been touched by efforts designed to create the environments that will insure better health down the road and create long-lasting infrastructure--from better public transit to local food delivery systems.

We need more prevention investments, not less. Currently close to half of Americans have at least one chronic disease. Together, these conditions count for 75% of all healthcare spending and are estimated to cost employers $73 billion a year.

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We all pay the price for poor health. Families face skyrocketing insurance premiums; local businesses experience diminished economic productivity and competitiveness; and local governments must divert more and more funds to cover healthcare programs at the expense of other critical investments in job creation, education and more.

At the Public Health Institute, we’re meeting this week with 42 rural counties across California who are in real need of the investments dedicated to them through the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Telling students in Merced County to walk to school when there are no sidewalks, or asking people in  Yolo County to eat healthily where there is no access to fresh food, is like asking a young person to become an electrical engineer but refusing to let them go to college.

PHI knows firsthand that evidence- and community-based prevention efforts work. Our Regional Asthma Management and Prevention (RAMP) program worked to reduce diesel emissions in California that are now projected to prevent 150,000 cases of asthma, 12,000 cases of acute bronchitis and 9,400 premature deaths over 15 years. In Philadelphia, a school nutrition intervention led by the Food Trust involving 1,349 fourth and fifth graders from 10 schools resulted in a 50 percent reduction in the incidence of overweight.  

The Prevention Fund is an unprecedented investment of federal resources designed to move the country off the unsustainable path of poor health. Asking students to bear snowballing student loan costs is unfair and unnecessary. Asking them, our country, and our economy to bear the costs of ever-burgeoning health care costs will be even more debilitating. Congress must address both problems, not force people to choose between them. Protecting the Prevention and Public Health Fund today is an investment in all of our futures.

Pittman is president and chief executive officer of the Public Health Institute, a global health organization dedicated to promoting health, well-being and quality of life.


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