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6 in 10 American Adults Live With a Chronic Disease

The growing number of Americans living with a chronic disease is putting a significant physical and financial strain on the U.S. healthcare system.

“Chronic disease in the United States, already highly prevalent, is expected to worsen over the next several decades among all age groups,” says the independent non-profit American Action Forum. “The burden of the associated physical and economic costs will worsen, as well.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 6 in 10 adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease, and that 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. have two or more chronic diseases.

“Those with chronic disease and their families face both direct and indirect costs: Direct costs primarily stem from longer and more frequent hospital visits and greater prescription drug use, while indirect costs arise from lost education and job opportunities,” says the American Action Forum.

Chronic Diseases Leading Driver of Death, Disability, Health Care Costs

The CDC says that not only are chronic diseases the leading causes of death and disability in the U.S. but they are also a leading driver of the nation’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care costs, with some estimates that 90 percent of the annual health care expenditures are for people with chronic and mental health conditions.

“The prevalence and cost of chronic disease in the United States is growing and will continue to grow, not just as a result of the Baby Boomer generation aging but also due to increased disease prevalence among children and younger adults,” says the American Action Forum.

The growing number of Americans with chronic diseases is expected to tax an already burdened long term care industry which is struggling to meet the demands of an aging U.S. population.

Heart Disease, Cancer, and Diabetes Take a Toll

The CDC says that chronic diseases are defined broadly as conditions that last one year or more and require ongoing attention or limit physical activities of daily living or both.

Chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability the United States:

  • Heart Disease and Stroke: More than 877,500 Americans die of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular diseases each year, according to the CDC. Heart disease and stroke are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the U.S. CDC also estimates that heart disease and stroke account for $216 billion in health care system costs and $147 billion in lost productivity on the job from premature death. Risk factors include:

o   High Blood Pressure: Nearly 50 percent of American adults have high blood pressure (defined as 130/80 or higher)


o   High Cholesterol: 86 million Americans could benefit from taking medicine to manage their cholesterol levels


o   Diabetes: Adults with diabetes are twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke as people who do not have diabetes


o   Smoking and secondhand smoke exposure: Smoking is a major cause of heart disease and stroke, causing 1 in every 4 deaths from these conditions


o   Obesity, Unhealthy Diet, and Physical Inactivity: Nearly 74 percent of U.S. adults are classified as overweight or obese.

  • Cancer: Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. Approximately 1.7 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year. 600,000 people die from cancer each year with 1 in 3 people likely to have cancer in their lifetime. Some $185 billion is spent each year on cancer care. Risk factors include:

o   Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke exposure


o   Exposure to sun and tanning beds


o   Overweight and obesity


o   Excessive alcohol use


o   Infectious disease

  • Diabetes: More than 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and 1 in 4 of them do not know they have it. Another 88 million U.S. adults (1 in 3) have prediabetes and 90 percent of them do not know they have it. The annual cost of diabetes is $327 billion.

Other chronic diseases that Americans must manage include:

o   Arthritis: Affects 58.54 million Americans or about 1 in 4 adults


o   Alzheimer’s Disease: Type of dementia affects 1 in 10 adults aged 65 or older


o   Epilepsy: About 3 million adults and 470,000 children and teens younger than 18 have active epilepsy


o   Tooth decay: 1 in 6 children aged 6 to 11 years and 1 in 4 adults have untreated cavities


o   Chronic lung disease: Chronic lower respiratory disease, primarily COPD, was the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.


o   Chronic kidney disease: 37 million Americans live with kidney disease

Direct and Indirect Costs from Chronic Disease

The costs of chronic disease in the U.S. are both direct and indirect.

“Direct costs are those attributed to the prescriptions, procedures, and other health care products and services needed to treat individuals with chronic diseases. Indirect costs are those associated with the impacts of chronic disease in other realms of life, such as effects on employment, mobility, and other factors associated with well-being,” says the American Action Forum.

Direct costs can be broken down into the following:

o   Hospitalizations: Americans with chronic diseases have more frequent and longer hospital stays


o   Prescriptions: Studies show that people with no chronic conditions took an average of 1 prescription per year while people with 3 to 4 chronic conditions took 24 prescriptions per year and those with 5 or more chronic conditions took 51 or more prescriptions per year


o   Emergency Room Visits: Nearly 60 percent of all ER visits are associated with people with chronic conditions

Indirect costs include:

o   Education and human capital: Spending required to treat chronic disease takes away from education spending and attainment


o   Economic well-being: Chronic disease prevents people from entering the labor force or curtails their economic full potential


o   Social well-being: Mental and physical chronic conditions can lead to harmful degrees of social isolation

8 Tips to Help Prevent Chronic Disease

The CDC says Americans can help prevent chronic disease with these 8 tips:

  1. Quit Smoking

  2. Eat Healthy

  3. Get Regular Physical Activity

  4. Avoid Drinking Too Much Alcohol

  5. Get Screened and Visit Your Doctor Regularly for Preventative Services

  6. Get Enough Sleep

  7. Know Your Family History

  8. Make Healthy Choices in School, at Work, and in the Community

“By practicing these healthy behaviors, you can improve your odds of staying well, feeling good, and living longer,” says the CDC.