Fact Sheet

Oct 26, 2006

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343


Overview: HHS is dedicated to creating a culture of wellness across this Nation by encouraging small steps and better choices. The best opportunities to do so are in the areas of disease prevention and health promotion. Prevention efforts like immunizations have already saved countless lives. Wellness has increased dramatically thanks to the promotion of better choices and healthier lifestyles. As a consequence, the state of our Nation's health is strong.

Yet all is not well with our Nation's health. Obesity is rising among adults and children. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, have become quiet killers.

Those diseases, many of which are preventable and manageable, account for an increasing amount of America's growing health care costs. Creating a culture of wellness would not only reduce suffering, it would increase our Nation's economic vitality.

Secretary Leavitt has declared that we need to become a society that thinks of staying healthy rather than simply being treated after we are sick. He has named prevention as one of his priorities, and is dedicating significant resources across a variety of programs to promoting health and creating wellness, ranging from the Medicare drug benefit and other preventive benefits for seniors to initiatives targeting childhood obesity.


The greatest advances in America's health have come from preventive and public health measures. And the opportunity remains vast for further gains through disease prevention and health promotion.

Over the last century, life expectancy in the U.S. increased by about 30 years. About five of those years were due to improvements in curative medicine and health care. The remaining 25 years were due to improvements in public health and preventive medicine.

The following few highlights demonstrate the scope of the problem and opportunities:

  • An estimated 90 million Americans are living with a chronic disease. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. In addition to limiting activities for 12 million older persons living in communities, chronic conditions currently account for more than 75 percent of the nation's nearly $2 trillion America spends on health care each year - diabetes alone accounts for $132 billion.
  • Perhaps worst of all, our children are growing up with unhealthy lifestyles: The percentage of young people who are overweight has more than tripled since 1980.
  • Today, more than a third of young people in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous-intensity physical activity. An estimated 61 percent of overweight young people have at least one additional risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Despite being the most prevalent and costly, chronic diseases are also among the most preventable of all health problems. Adopting healthy behaviors can prevent or control the devastating effects of these diseases. Following are recommended practices toward better health:

  • Regular physical activity has countless priceless benefits: It builds strength and aerobic fitness, provides motivation and promotes relaxation. Exercise aids sleep and can reduce the risk of dying of coronary heart disease and decrease the risk for colon cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Despite these proven benefits, more than 50 percent of American adults do not get enough physical activity to provide health benefits and more than a third of young people in grades 9-12 do not regularly engage in vigorous physical activity.
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products not only makes us feel good, it is vital to reducing our risk for diseases like heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and osteoporosis. In fact, dietary changes could reduce cancer deaths in the United States by as much as 35 percent.
  • Routine screenings can identify a previously undiagnosed condition or risk of condition. This allows physicians to intervene early with treatments and therapies to control the condition or inform the individual of lifestyle changes that can be taken to improve health outcomes and costs. If everyone aged 50 years or older were screened regularly, as many as 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented.
  • Avoiding risky behaviors such as using tobacco or drugs, or abusing alcohol - even driving without a safety belt - can save lives and improve health. Despite the fact that fewer Americans are using tobacco, each day 3,900 young people try their first cigarette, and smoking remains the number-one preventable cause of death in our country.


The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), an office within the Office of Public Health and Science (OPHS) -- Leads the "Healthy People" initiative, establishing prevention goals through a national partnership of public, professional and volunteer groups. "Healthy People 2010" identifies 467 prevention goals and measures progress. ODPHP coordinates the development of The Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years on behalf of HHS, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans forms the basis of all federal nutrition education and promotion activities.

The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports (PCPFS), also part of OPHS -- Leads efforts to encourage physical activity participation to Americans of all ages and abilities through various programs, including the Presidents Challenge Physical Activity & Fitness Awards Program. PCPFS achieves this through the promotion of messages through partnerships and collaborations.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- Leads state and community prevention efforts including immunization; monitoring and control of infectious diseases, including sexually transmitted diseases; health and behavioral information to reduce chronic disease, including smoking prevention; and injury prevention. Leads the effort to identify successful practices in the Guide to Community Preventive Services.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - Leads clinical prevention efforts including the development and dissemination of recommendations on effective clinical preventive services. Support the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and its resources for clinicians, health care systems, payers, purchasers and consumers such as the annual Guide to Clinical Preventive Services, Electronic Preventive Services Selector tool and consumer-oriented publications. Supports primary care research to understand what works in clinical practice to improve delivery of preventive services.

National Institutes of Health -- Supports research pertinent to all aspects of disease prevention, including molecular, genetic, behavioral, environmental, clinical, and epidemiologic studies to identify causes of and to prevent and detect conditions such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. The nation's medical research agency communicates research findings to patients and their families, health care providers and the general public, and supports research in health education and promotion, including field studies and demonstration projects, to ensure that scientific discoveries are rapidly translated from the bench to the bedside.

Health Resources and Services Administration -- Provides access to primary health care, preventive services and health education through health centers and HIV-AIDS service providers; leads national efforts to improve maternal and child health and reduce infant mortality.

Food and Drug Administration -- Ensures food safety to prevent foodborne disease; prevents illness through regulation of medical and other products.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) -- Awards grants and works closely with states and local communities to develop comprehensive prevention and education programs that create healthy communities in which people enjoy a quality life. Supports services and information to prevent alcohol and drug abuse, violence, suicide, and other problems that are harmful to families and communities. SAMHSA programs also promote mental health treatment and provide support with housing, employment, education, social services, transportation and medical and nursing care to those who have or at risk for mental health problems. SAMHSA's support before and during national disasters and emergencies helps states prepare and respond so that those affected will recover more quickly and resume their lives.

Indian Health Service -- Working with tribal governments, provides preventive services and information for Native American populations.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services -- Covers certain preventive services for beneficiaries and provides information on health choices for beneficiary populations.

Administration for Children and Families -- Provides early childhood preventive services delivered through Head Start.

Administration on Aging -- Supports state, tribal and community efforts in evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention for older Americans.


Some recently announced steps to expand disease prevention and health promotion efforts by HHS include the following:

The Medicare Drug Benefit: We're putting a greater emphasis on prevention in this year's new Medicare enrollment period, which begins on November 15, 2006. Preventive services offered include: A "Welcome to Medicare" physical exam and screenings for a variety of diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and breast, prostrate and colorectal cancers.

The Creation of Comprehensive Physical Activity Guidelines: Beginning immediately, the Department will initiate a process to develop comprehensive physical activity guidelines for all Americans. It will take two years and culminate in publication in late 2008 of the first Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Increased availability of seasonal flu vaccine: More than 36,000 people die from flu and its complications each year, losses that could be lessened by vaccination. This year we have more flu vaccine than ever, and so all Americans who want vaccinations should get them.

Convenient prevention tools for physicians: HHS will soon send more than 400,000 copies of the 2006 Guide to Preventative Services to clinicians nationwide in cooperation with our partner, United Health Foundation.

Electronic Preventive Services Selector: The Services Selector, which is designed for use on both PDAs and desktop computers, will be available to clinicians and contain 110 recommendations for specific populations covering 59 separate preventive services topics. This free, interactive tool will assist physicians in selecting the right preventive service for the right patient in real time.

HealthierFeds Physical Activity Challenge: This program for federal employees, families, and retirees in all three branches of government, starting January 22, 2007. The Challenge is designed to include all Federal employees, from those who already practice an active lifestyle to those who currently are less active. Participants can choose from nearly 100 activities to earn points, offering enough variety and flexibility to sustain their interest and enthusiasm.

A Healthier You: Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans: This new consumer-friendly book that brings together federal nutrition science, expertise and assets. It is based upon the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and helps Americans make smart choices about healthy eating, physical activity, and a healthier lifestyle.

We Can!, Ways to Enhance Children's Activity & Nutrition: This new national education program is designed to help prevent overweight and obesity among youth ages 8-13. We Can! provides science-based resources and community-based programs for parents, caregivers, and youth that focus on behaviors to encourage healthy eating, increase physical activity, and reduce sedentary time.

School Health Index (SHI): To help schools with establishing and implementing their local school wellness policies, the SHI enables schools to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their school health promotion policies and programs; and, develop an action plan for improving student health that involves teachers, parents, students, and the community.

www.smallstep.gov offers information and resources to you help learn ways you can change small things about your life and see big results.

www.healthfinder.gov offers links to interactive "online checkups" for consumers, including calculators and quizzes. In addition, this online gateway provides users an easy way to cut through the clutter of health information on the Internet with access to an online health library and user-friendly search functions. The healthfinder® library links to more than 1,500 federal agencies, nonprofits, professional associations, faith-based organizations and state agencies.

Community prevention programs for older Americans: Public private collaborations to improve the health and quality of life for older Americans at the community level which will empower older people to take more control of their own health through life style and behavioral changes that have proven effective in reducing the risk of disease and disability among the elderly.


Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other press materials are available at http://www.hhs.gov/news.

Last Revised: October 27, 2006