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An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Repeal

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The House is now in Republican hands. If our newly elected officials earnestly believe that, "The people's priorities will be our priorities. The people's agenda will be our agenda," then they must protect the health and wellness of all Americans. They must stand up for prevention.

The new Speaker of the House John Boehner said earlier this year that repealing health reform is his #1 priority. The senate already tried to attack critical wellness money funded through the Prevention and Public Health Fund--and failed. But that failed strategy seems to still be on the table, according to an article in yesterday's Politico.

"Republicans are expected to pay for their proposals [to roll back health reform], in part, by dipping into the law's prevention and work force funds, another top concern of the law's backers, who say the prevention fund is one of the most significant cost controls in the legislation."

Prevention is a "significant cost control" because it stops people from getting sick in the first place. 75 percent of current health care costs are the result of preventable chronic diseases. Estimates indicate that by 2040 our health care costs will consume 34 percent of our GDP. For every dollar we spend on prevention, we see a five-to-one return on investment. We simply can't fix our economy without it. Prevention efforts, funded through the Prevention and Public Health Fund and Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiatives are working right now to alleviate some of these soaring costs--and improving health at the same time.

Our newly elected officials don't have to look any further than their own backyards to see community prevention initiatives making a difference, right now.

In Boehner's home state of Ohio, 21.8 percent of Hamilton County third graders are overweight. Grades K-8 students receive an average of 72.7 minutes of physical education/week, well below the national recommendation of 150 minutes/week.

Thanks to Communities Putting Prevention to Work funding, the Cincinnati Public School system has already implemented new guidelines for foods and beverages sold in school vending machines, a la carte lines and school stores, ensuring that they meet nutrition standards that place limits on calories, certain nutrients and portion size. That's 34,000 children eating healthier, in one city alone. Next up will be helping make sure kids have access to thirty minutes of exercise a day in their after school programs, and helping schools, local YMCAs and churches open up their playgrounds and facilities to neighbors looking for safe places to exercise.

Through funding from the Federal Office on Violence Against Women, the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence has engaged the public health community--birthing hospitals, pediatricians, OB/GYN, nurses--through the "Four out of Five Babies Go Home to a Safe, Loving Family. Let's Help Number Five" statewide prevention campaign. They initiate conversations with patients on the importance of healthy relationships, and engage young people to change social norms in every Idaho secondary school. It promotes the characteristics of healthy teen relationships by engaging teens--over 14,000---parents and adults to promote policy change that will eradicate the acceptance of violence in our relationships and communities.

In May, the South Carolina Senate voted to raise South Carolina's cigarette tax for the first time in 33 years. The 50-cent increase in the State's cigarette tax means that more than 23,000 children under the age of eighteen in South Carolina will never become smokers.

In Nashville, Mayor Karl Dean signed an Executive Order formalizing Nashville's "Complete Streets" policy, which ensures that public streets are built to accommodate all modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling and mass transit. An American Journal of Public Health, study confirmed that more than half of the differences in obesity rates among countries is linked to walking and cycling rates, and that crosswalks, bikepaths, and restrictions on car use encourage walking and cycling.

A new poll on prevention released a few weeks ago shows that the public not only understands prevention, they want more of it (even as some legislators still profess ignorance). 73% of the public support resources that go to community prevention initiatives. Even when community prevention efforts are tied to higher taxes, the majority of the public still favors them. Those standing for re-election in 2012 should take note: 80% of Democrats, 64% of independents, and 58% of Republicans say they are more likely to vote for an elected official who supports community prevention efforts.

When it comes to implementing new policies that protect families and provide more healthy options, the numbers are just as clear. More than ¾ of the public say that bringing more fresh fruits and vegetables into neighborhood outlets, healthier lunches for kids, and banning smoking from public places are a priority to them. That's exactly the kinds of efforts our federal prevention initiatives are funding.

Prevention works: it builds health and saves money. Reducing injury, illness and misery isn't a partisan issue. The public is sending a crystal-clear message. Let's hope Congress listens.

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