Nearly Half Of All Americans Now Have A Chronic Disease

OPINION:  This article contains commentary which may reflect the author’s opinion

Americans have access to more knowledge about health than ever before, but something is backfiring when it comes to the health status of almost half the population of the United States.

Chronic diseases have taken over as the leading health problem in the U.S. and remain the biggest killers in the United States. They claim the lives of 7 out of 10 Americans every year.

Zero Hedge reports that the prevalence of these conditions has surged over the past decade, creating a twofold healthcare and economic crisis affecting nearly half of Americans. By 2030, the number of U.S. residents struggling with at least one chronic illness is expected to surpass 170 million.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the main factors contributing to this subset of “lifestyle diseases” include tobacco use, poor nutrition, being overly sedentary, and excessive alcohol usage. The expanding elderly population and adults aren’t the only age groups seeing an uptick.

More than 40 percent of children and adolescents currently have at least one chronic illness, according to the CDC.

Further, the tidal wave of chronic diseases has occurred in lockstep with a sharp rise in ultra-processed food consumption over the past two decades.

An 18-year study published by New York University showed that consumption of ultra-processed food climbed steadily during this period and comprised 57 percent of America’s daily calories by 2018.

During that study period, an additional 15 million people developed chronic diseases. Medical professionals say this is no coincidence.

The shift from acute to chronic illnesses as the dominant U.S. health concern began in the 1950s. Some researchers place the blame for the current health crisis squarely on the shoulders of a lethargic medical industry.

A 2020 study published in the National Library of Medicine summarized, “The medical profession and its leadership did not recognize or respond appropriately to the rising prevalence of chronic disease. As a consequence, a health care crisis emerged, with inadequate access to care and quality of care, together with excessive costs.”

Healthcare professionals say some chronic diseases are the byproduct of unhealthy lifestyle choices, diet, and excessive stress. One study asserts that non-communicable diseases that are chronic account for 70 percent of all global deaths annually. That includes various ailments and severity, from food allergies to heart disease.

These conditions are called “lifestyle diseases,” many of which have an established cause-effect relationship with daily choices. Diseases like Heart disease, obesity, diabetes, certain cancers, inflammatory conditions, and asthma are all under this umbrella of “lifestyle diseases”.

The cost burden of the situation is significant. The spectrum of chronic diseases comprises a disproportionately large segment of U.S. healthcare costs. Of the nation’s $4.1 trillion annual healthcare expenditures, chronic diseases account for 90 percent. That’s more than $3 trillion dollars of annual direct costs alone.

At an individual level, the price tag doesn’t look any better. Estimates for the treatment and management of chronic conditions—on average—tally more than $6,000 annually per patient, Zero Hedge notes.

Some chronic disease specialists and health practitioners say that figure is spot on, depending on the condition. “For example, if you have type 2 diabetes, you are often checking in with your provider every three months. Four visits a year, times $300 a visit, plus the amount spent for medications per month … quickly adds up,” nurse practitioner Lola MacLean told The Epoch Times.

MacLean has worked in family and internal medicine for the past five years. In that time, she’s noticed a spike in the number of patients suffering from chronic conditions walk through the door.

“I have seen an uptick in chronic conditions, especially those related to metabolic disorders, [like] type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression,” she said, warning, “The vast majority of chronic diseases in the United States are related to lifestyle choices, and contributing factors include dietary choices, lack of regular physical activity, [and] mental-emotional stress.”

Many chronic diseases require specialist care for management. Providers in these fields have also witnessed a surge in patients. “Indeed, I have noticed an uptick in the number of patients with chronic diseases, particularly those with respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD [Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease],” John Landry told The Epoch Times.

Landry is a licensed, registered respiratory therapist and founder of the education platform Respiratory Therapy Zone. He noted chronic respiratory diseases often require expensive medications, frequent doctor visits, and hospitalizations.

“I find the estimate of $6,000 USD for the annual cost of treating chronic diseases to be plausible … This doesn’t even take into account indirect costs such as time off work for the patient and their caregivers.”

Julie Walters is co-founder of the PCDH19 Alliance, an online support network promoting early diagnosis and supporting families struggling with the condition. She also runs The Connected Parent, which is a free platform for families and caregivers that also reviews resources, acutely aware of how important resources are for parents who have children struggling with PCDH19 and other chronic diseases.


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