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Analysis finds federal government under-funds chronic disease prevention research

Comprehensive analysis is the first-ever completed; Increasing funding for chronic disease prevention research would save lives and reduce healthcare costs

The Vitality Institute

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Credit: The Vitality Institute

New York - Investigators have, for the first time, completed a comprehensive analysis of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding of research to prevent non-communicable chronic diseases (NCDs) and determined that prevention research in the United States is severely underfunded. Specifically, the study found the NIH spends just 7 to 9 percent of its research budget on behavioral interventions to prevent NCDs, despite the fact that 70 percent of deaths in the U.S. are due to NCDs, and that treating people with NCDs accounts for approximately 84 percent of U.S. healthcare expenditures. The study is sponsored by the Vitality Institute and published today in the online edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"This study highlights that more targeted federal funding is needed to take advantage of the untapped potential to prevent non-communicable diseases, save lives and reduce healthcare costs," said the study's lead author, Chris Calitz, health programs and evaluation director at the American Heart Association. "I hope policymakers will take note of this imbalance and, building on some of the initiatives mentioned in the study, quickly take steps to correct it."

Derek Yach, the executive director of the Vitality Institute and the study's senior author said, "This study provides compelling evidence that a lack of serious NIH investment in prevention science hampers health gains. The Office on Prevention is a needed start in correcting decades of neglect. That office needs to be fully financed and mandated to double the level of NIH investment in prevention science. The impact will be profound: more academics will seek careers in prevention science; better policies will be developed; and the U.S. could assume a leadership role in prevention science."

The cross-sectional study examined NIH funding during fiscal years 2010, 2011 and 2012 of research to prevent cancer, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and obesity -- six of the most costly NCDs. The analysis focused on funding for predominately human behavioral interventions to prevent these diseases.

Secondary conclusions from the analysis include:

  • Only 12 percent of the NIH prevention portfolio includes economic analyses, despite the increasing need for policymakers to have credible information about the cost effectiveness of prevention and treatment approaches

  • 65 percent of the studies investigated secondary prevention strategies that aim to reduce the prevalence of disease by shortening its duration, as opposed to primary prevention strategies that aim to protect health and prevent the development of disease symptoms

  • 71 percent of the studies targeted the individual or family level, even though expert scientific panels recommend more interventions should be directed at the population level

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As study sponsor, the Vitality Institute had no role in data collection, analysis or interpretation. Yach's role as senior author was limited to the study's conceptualization and assistance with the writing of the report.

About the Vitality Institute

The Vitality Institute is an evidence-driven, action-oriented research organization working to strengthen the evidence base around what works and what doesn't work in health promotion and chronic disease prevention. Its mission is to advance knowledge about the evolving science and art of prevention and health promotion in order to build healthier societies and reduce incidence of non-communicable diseases. The Vitality Institute is an initiative of Discovery, a global financial services provider, and is part of Discovery's commitment to health promotion and well-being programs. More information is available at http://www.thevitalityinstitute.org.

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