Sunday, March 1, 2009

Donating to "the cause"

RebelHealth Chick has been distracted lately. I've had too many issues swirling around in my head and haven't been able to complete a thought. This, however, is one that is heightened by both the healthcare crisis as well as the recent financial crisis. (Crisis, crisis, crisis...I wonder how many times a day that words creeps into our head from the news? Anyway...)

Have you ever gotten slammed in the head by one of those "ah ha" moments? Well, I was driving home the other day, thinking about two friends who are walking in one of the breast cancer walks and it hit me - not totally or specifically about "the cause" of breast cancer, but somewhat. What hit me, specifically, took me back to a donation I had made last year for a friend's daughter who was jumping rope for the American Heart Association. I felt like a tidal wave of "donate for the cure..." causes came to mind, and frankly, I got angry. I started thinking about "the cure" for heart disease, lung cancer, type 2 diabetes, ...and to a certain extent, for breast cancer. These first three diseases are truly classified as lifestyle-related diseases, and with many forms of breast cancer, lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyle and and obesity contribute directly to this disease as well. My anger came from the thought that we're donating money to cure diseases that are preventable. Why aren't we donating to "the prevention of" versus "the cure of" these diseases. It seems to me that if we took steps to prevent the disease, there would be no need to cure it. But perhaps that's too simple, or too logical. Or, get real, right? That's what politics and lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry are for!

I went to the American Heart Association's (AHA) and Susan G. Komen's website to see if I could determine to what area (research, community education, treatment) donations actually go. A portion, approximately 30% (if I'm correct in my math -they make it difficult to decipher from the Annual Reports - and I welcome correction if I'm wrong) of the donations made to the AHA do go to community education and awareness. While this is admirable, heart disease is one of the conditions with so many risk factors related to lifestyle, I would have hoped the percentage of funds for prevention would have been equal to those for a cure or treatment. Heredity, age, sex/gender certainly may not be preventable or modifiable risks, but physical activity (exercise), a diet low in saturated fat and high in fresh fruits/vegetables/whole grains/lean protein, not smoking, maintaining a healthy BMI...all preventable. And I say "MAY not be preventable" in relation to the non-preventable/modifiable risks, because you are deemed to be at risk for heart disease if a first generation relative had a cardiovascular-related incident before a certain age, but what if their lifestyle contributed to the condition, and not heredity. Then, you may not be at risk if you don't make the same poor lifestyle choices. The same goes for lung cancer and high blood pressure - both diseases with preventable risk factors. And honestly, I didn't have the patience to dig through the Annual Report at the Susan G. Komen site.

So, now, every time I see a "donate to cure (insert name of disease here)", I look at it so very differently. I don't want to donate to pay, or even be forced to pay through taxes (Medicare/Medicaid) or high healthcare premiums, for other people's poor lifestyle choices. I'm not sure, however, what the answer is. So many Americans make not just poor, but the absolute wrong choices related to smoking, drinking, diet, physical activity and stress management, and they arrogantly refuse to make the right choice - even though the length and quality of their life depends on it. And frankly, it's not just their life, it's their family's life, as it's their family members who will be caring for them in poor health as they age with the diseases they caused.

We need to donate more toward the prevention of lifestyle-related disease, versus toward pharmacological and other medical treatment. I'm not saying not to donate to the cure at all, as so many people already suffer from these diseases, but to put more energy into prevention would reduce the incidence of the disease, thereby reducing the need for treatment/cure.

As I commented (or more likely ranted) in an earlier blog about "scrutinizing", employ some objective, distanced, critical thinking the next time someone asks you to donate "for the cure" - make sure you think how many ways the cure for that disease may not be needed if preventative strategies were more aggressive.

No comments: