The number of Americans 45 and older with two or more chronic conditions is growing at an alarming rate, and Utahns are following the same trend.
The percentage of Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 with two or more chronic conditions grew from 16 to 21 in the last 10 years, according to new research at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In those 65 and older, the CDC states, the rate increased from 37 to 45 percent.
The two most costly chronic diseases being treated in Utah are diabetes and high blood pressure, according to a report issued by the Utah Department of Health.
The cost of treating diabetes in 2010 was approximately $202 million, the report shows, and high blood pressure costs were roughly $111 million.
While the report states that Utah has compared favorably to other states with respect to obesity, cancer and other chronic disease rates, it continues to struggle with high blood pressure and diabetes.
Dr. Melissa J. Bentley, an Ogden physician in internal medicine, said she is seeing an increase in the number of patients with both diabetes and high blood pressure.
She believes the increase is because people:
* eat too much, especially in the way of fast food;
* eat too many processed foods;
* don't exercise enough;
* and have high levels of untreated stress, anxiety, depression and obesity.
"Family history and other factors play a role, but every person can have a huge impact on his or her own health and life by choosing to eat well, exercise regularly, avoid smoking and other unhealthy habits," she said.
Dr. Brent Williams, an Intermountain Healthcare family physician and owner of Timeless Medical Spa and Weight Loss Clinic, said he also is seeing an increase in both chronic conditions.
"There is no question we see a lot of diabetes and high blood pressure," he said. "Not only that, but about a third of diabetes in America is undiagnosed."
Obesity is the No. 1 reason for the increase, Williams said.
"People are consuming too much sugar and corn syrup," he said.
"Corn syrup is processed into so many foods, and sugar is added to soft drinks. When you consume those things, you're hungry again in an hour, but if you eat a 300-calorie meal made up of mostly protein, you're going to be fuller longer."
Prevention will solve the problem before treatment will, Williams said.
"There's no question that the answer to the rising health care costs is prevention of the disease, not even treating it at a cheaper rate," he said.
"Now, I'm not saying that if you have a healthy body mass index and you exercise more that disease will go away.
"That's simply not true, but we can definitely decrease the number of people who are getting these chronic conditions through prevention, and that includes eating healthy, exercising and losing weight."
Bentley agrees and said people need to consume more fresh vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.
In addition, she said, 30 minutes of aerobic activity six days a week is important.
"Occasionally, lifestyle changes alone are effective, even if medication is started," Bentley said.
"Lifestyle changes are still critical for avoiding long-term complications of diabetes."
Williams said evidence shows people can lower their mortality rate by 30 percent by keeping a normal body mass index.
"You can also lower your mortality rate 30 percent by exercising consistently," he said.
"No drug is as powerful as that."