This month in CP Diaries, I spoke about Preventative Healthcare, something I’m passionate about promoting to our community. Almost half of Australians currently have one or more chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease; most of these conditions are preventable through preventative health care promotion and screening. Coronary heart disease has long been the leading cause of disease and death. In 2022, the five disease groups causing the most burden were cancer, musculoskeletal conditions, cardiovascular diseases, mental health conditions & substance use disorders and neurological conditions. In the overall population, the rates of stroke and cancers like bowel cancer have gone down; however, things like Type 2 diabetes, Dementia and Osteoarthritis have gone up. We also know that:
67% of adults and 25% of children are overweight or obese
14% of Australians are daily smokers (this has gone down significantly over the years)
1 in 5 adults experiences high or very high levels of psychological distress
Deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases while low are still present and could be prevented (in 2016 there were 579 deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases).
When we talk about Preventative health care, we are thinking about keeping ourselves in good health, for as long as possible, about avoiding the onset of illness and disease, including mental and physical health.
We can think about preventative health in two ways; through promoting healthy lifestyles and preventing risk factors such as smoking and excess alcohol and through promoting health tests and screening such as general health checks, Pap tests, bowel screening, self-checks (breast and prostate), skin checks and mammograms. We should all consider preventative health when we are young, with our children and especially as we get older. The government has put together a preventive health strategy which started in 2021. It has identified seven key priorities-
Reducing tobacco use and nicotine addiction
Improving access to and consumption of a healthy diet (according to research, only 5% of the population eats the recommended daily fruit and vegetables)
Increasing physical activity
Increasing cancer screening and prevention
Improving immunisation coverage
Reducing alcohol and other drug harm
Promoting and protecting Mental Health
A key message I took away from this strategy was, ‘Let’s reorientate from an illness system to a wellness system’.
The government’s preventative health strategy acknowledges the need for health equity. It highlights that ‘health is for all Australians’ and includes disability in the priority groups where there is a need for increased equity in access to preventative health care and risk reduction. We know that barriers exist in accessing health care for individuals with disabilities. These can include physical access to buildings or mechanisms for health care (for example, a GP’s bench, a chair for blood tests), cost, health literacy and accessible health information, long wait times, discrimination, and lack of communication.
A government health report of people with a disability in 2020 found that individuals with a disability were more likely to rate their mental health as poor and reported higher levels of psychological distress (than adults without a disability); they were very slightly more likely not to eat enough fruit and vegetables, more likely to be overweight, not participate in sufficient exercise and have high blood pressure, they were less likely to drink more than the recommended daily alcohol amount and were very similar in smoking levels.
One study I read reported increased pain, osteoporosis, fatigue, and musculoskeletal and joint problems in adults with CP. The study also discussed high rates of negative experiences when seeing a health practitioner. The study participants described positive health experiences where the health practitioner ‘respected and heard’ the individual.
So what can we take away from all this information and data? That we must live a healthy lifestyle and reduce health risk factors.
How do we achieve this?
Focusing on ‘wellness’ and reorientating our thinking to staying well instead of responding to sickness is a crucial step. When we evaluate our health and well-being, actions that might be needed to improve our wellness can be recognised and slow, achievable goals set. I am a big advocate for self-care and believe it is vital to mental and physical fitness. Health literacy (our understanding of health, illness, and disease) is essential, so education on how to stay well is also an important step. Reaching out to formal (medical and allied health) and informal (family and friends) support can help.
Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, About Preventative Health in Australia- https://www.health.gov.au/topics/preventive-health/about
Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, National Preventative Health Strategy