April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. We're missing a great opportunity to save money on U.S. health care expenditures and save lives from obesity-related disease: The tax code should be revised to reward preventative health.
The United States is the world's richest and most powerful nation, yet we rank 28th in life expectancy and 70th in overall health according to the Social Progress Index. At $2.7 trillion, we outspend all other countries in health care, with nearly $1.5 trillion treating diseases related to inactivity, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Seventy percent of adults age 20 and older are overweight, and more than 33 percent are obese. For the first time, according to some predictions, children in the current generation may live shorter lives than their parents. Our current health care system does little to encourage preventive health, and we continue to spend billions of dollars treating preventable diseases. It's time to incentivize Americans to lead healthier lives.
Regular physical activity reduces the risk of death and both treats and prevents disease in every system of the body. Researchers at the London School of Economics and Stanford University School of Medicine published a faceoff trial comparing the effectiveness of exercise to drugs in decreasing mortality rates among people diagnosed with heart disease, chronic heart failure, stroke or diabetes. That is, they tested which approach staved off death.
Exercise was just as effective as traditional medical treatment, and in some cases, it outperformed medication. Participants who exercised had considerably lower risk of death from stroke than those who took medication. People with diabetes and heart disease who exercised had the same risk as those taking commonly prescribed drugs, with none of the costs or side effects associated with medication.