The Value of Prevention

Jay ThompsonLike many organizations, we at the Safe Routes to School National Partnership like to have data to back up our opinions.

In my last post, I spoke to the benefits and advantages of schools and communities engaging in shared use agreements. The ultimate goal of implementing these agreements is to reduce trends of obesity in our state, as well as diseases that stem from these trends. Acknowledging the value of prevention provides a totally new perspective and incentive for the work we do through the National Partnership.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading killer of Americans and it creates massive strains on our economy. Direct and indirect medical care costs for these diseases reached almost $450 billion in 2010 and are projected to exceed $1 trillion a year by 2030. However, research indicates prevention can actually save money while saving lives. More bicycling and walking is a great prevention technique!

From a dieting perspective—if every American consumed only 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily, it would save an estimated $26.2 billion in annual healthcare costs.

From a physical activity perspective—every $1 invested in building bicycle and pedestrian trails brings nearly $3 in medical cost savings.

Comprehensive smoke-free air laws in public buildings, where much shared use occurs, brings an estimated $10 billion in annual savings for direct and indirect healthcare costs.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the $10 billion is a savings from secondhand smoking alone. Cigarette smoking costs more than $193 billion.

About 1 in 3 U.S. adults—an estimated 68 million—have high blood pressure.1Anyone, including children, can develop high blood pressure. It greatly increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, the first and third leading causes of death in the United States.  On average, a person who manages blood pressure with medication saves about $37,000 a year, but in 2010, high blood pressure was projected to cost the United States $93.5 billion in health care services, medication and missed days of work. Managing it with bicycling and walking is nearly free.

From a public health perspective, a cost-benefit analysis of using bicycle/pedestrian trails in Lincoln, Nebraska, to reduce health care costs associated with inactivity was conducted. Data was obtained from the city's 1998 Recreational Trails Census Report and the literature. Per capita annual cost of using the trails was $209.28 ($59.28 construction and maintenance, $150 of equipment and travel). Per capita annual direct medical benefit of using the trails was $564.41. The cost-benefit ratio was 2.94, which means that every $1 investment in trails for physical activity led to $2.94 in direct medical benefit. The value of prevention speaks boldly and is money well invested for the health of our nation.