Of the top causes of death in the United States, heart disease is first, followed closely by cancer at second, stroke at fifth and diabetes at eighth. What do these diseases all have in common? In most cases, they are preventable through lifestyle change and environmental protection. Heart disease, stroke and diabetes are primarily due to unhealthy, plant-deficient, and/or highly processed diets and lack of physical activity with some influence by inadequate sleep, substance use including tobacco and alcohol, lack of social connection and high stress. The most common cancers in the U.S., lung, colon, breast and prostate, are also affected by lifestyle factors but also environmental toxins or pollution.

Lifestyle and preventive medicine at the community and individual levels can make a significant impact on morbidity and mortality in the U.S. Access to care, education, counseling/coaching, availability of healthy environments, open spaces for physical activity, healthy food and community belonging are all in the toolbox of medicine, and, particularly, preventive medicine. The dissemination of accurate information about health and prevention is the responsibility of not only public health departments, but also physicians, systems, governments, the media and the citizenry.

Let’s not just celebrate this February as American Heart Month and Cancer Prevention Month. Let’s work towards ensuring everyone, regardless of geography or socioeconomic status, has the knowledge, support and access to the best available, evidence-based information to improve those lifestyle factors they can change, the preventive services to ensure ongoing health or management of conditions and the guidance to remain in good health as much as possible. Let’s use this month to start to change the needle so that, one day, preventable, chronic, lifestyle-mediated diseases are no longer the top causes of death in this country.

Ankush K. Bansal, MD, FACP, FACPM, SFHM, DipABLM
Vice Chair, Advocacy Committee
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