Can behaviour modification prevent the onset of chronic disease?

The World Health Organization prioritises physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use and unhealthy diets as behavioural factors that can be controlled and regulated to contain the impact of noncommunicable diseases.

Preventative Medicine aims to prevent sickness before it happens. It promotes health and wellbeing to prevent disease, disability and death on an individual basis, as well as on a large scale in communities and populations. 

But why is Preventative Medicine important? 

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that chronic diseases account for seven out of ten deaths in the US. Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and chronic neurologic disorders are the five leading causes of death globally. These diseases are non-communicable and are typically exacerbated by behavioural risk factors. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines behavioural risk factors (BRFs) as those that the individual can modify to reduce the probability of the onset of a disease or the disease worsening.  

The WHO prioritises physical activity, tobacco use, alcohol use and unhealthy diets (high in fat, sodium, with low fruit and vegetable intake) as the BRFs that can be controlled and regulated to contain the impact of noncommunicable diseases. 

Therefore, health promotion and management of unhealthy behaviours have become so critical. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating well, exercising and avoiding tobacco use can help prevent disease or minimise the effects of the disease.  

Can Preventative Medicine prevent or delay the onset of diabetes?  

A clinical trial conducted by the Diabetes Prevention Program studied more than 3200 adults aged 25 and older who were at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The participants engaged in an intensive lifestyle modification programme, which included a healthy diet with reduced fat and lower calorie intake, moderate physical activity of 30 minutes per day for five days per week, and standard care plus the drug metformin. 

Results showed that individuals at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes could prevent or delay the disease onset by losing five to seven percent of their body weight through this intensive lifestyle modification. These lifestyle interventions worked particularly well in older adults aged 60 and above, reducing the development of diabetes by 71 percent. 

A 360° view of individuals and communities 

In recent years, data that is not traditionally part of the medical record, such as social determinants, has been increasingly used as a measurable indicator of health and has a tremendous impact on the well-being of individuals and their communities.  

Some countries have successfully deployed preventative medicine specialists – licensed medical doctors who understand individual characteristics beyond the clinical setting.  

With expertise in a broad range of health care areas, including social, economic and behavioural science, preventative medicine specialists are taking the lead in improving the health and quality of life of individuals, families, communities and populations through disease prevention and health promotion. 

Improving our approach to Preventative Medicine 

How can we take a step in the right direction? A good start would be for our electronic health record to reflect information on verified social determinants of health, like lifestyle choices, disease agents and environmental factors.  

A big portion of this type of information will come directly from the individual engaged in their wellbeing. The success of health apps on personal smart devices has produced an incredible source of behavioural data that should be tapped into. 

Capturing and surfacing such variables, as part of the prevention effort should be electronically managed in a population health platform. 

Orion Health’s Amadeus is the platform for population health management and precision medicine. It aggregates all types of health data, from both traditional and non-traditional sources. This rich repository of data enables clinicians to make well-informed decisions at the point of care.  

Want to know more about Amadeus? You can read more or reach out to our expert for a chat.