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Chronic disease taking enormous toll on Mississippi’s economy

The economic impact of chronic disease in Mississippi is a staggering $15.2 billion each year in lost productivity and absenteeism. That’s the figure from a study by the Milken Institute, a non-profit, independent think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif. It’s part of a national study of the most chronic diseases, bringing to light for the first time the economic loss associated with preventable illness and the cost to the nation’s gross domestic product and American businesses in lost growth.

“Chronic diseases are among the most costly — and preventable — of all health problems,” said Sam W. Cameron, president/CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association. “Wellness and prevention methods must become a central component of our health care system.”

He added that research has shown that workplace health and wellness programs generate an average savings of $5.93 for every $1 spent.

The Milken Institute report finds that if left unchecked, chronic disease could cost the Mississippi economy $64.3 billion by the year 2023. Assuming modest improvements in preventing and treating disease, by 2023 the state could reduce the impact by $13 billion annually.

In addition to providing national numbers, the report ranks all 50 states by the reported number of certain diseases per capita. According to this index, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi have the highest rates of chronic disease. Those with the lowest rates are Utah, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.

The Mississippi State Department of Health lists cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke, diabetes, cancer and arthritis, on its chronic disease fact sheet. The state’s CVD mortality is the highest in the nation. In 2000, the mortality rate was 29% higher than the United States as a whole. The state had one death every 45 minutes from CVD in 2001.

The fact sheet states that the economic impact of CVD on the Mississippi healthcare system continues to grow as the population ages.

Barbara Logue, Ph.D. and senior economist with the Institutions of Higher Learning, says the larger older population is causing us to more readily recognize the impact of chronic disease and other reasons for not holding a job. The 2000 census was the first census to ask a variety of questions focused on this subject.

“They were questions to determine what makes it difficult to hold down a job. There were questions about disabilities that included sensory, physical, mental, going outside home without help, self-care and employment disability,” she said. “Families, communities and businesses must be aware of this. Mississippi is worse off because it’s poorer, more rural with a lack of services, and these issues need to be addressed.”

As the fraction of the population aged 85 and older grows, more people will need help with everyday things. At all ages, chronic health problems may result from disease, accidents, violence or congenital abnormalities.

“When substantial fractions of the population suffer from long-term disability, the state experiences a variety of negative impacts,” Logue said. “First, previous research in Mississippi shows that chronic disability early in life limits educational attainment. Further, among people not disabled in childhood, the less educated are more likely to become disabled as adults.”

That’s true in part because the jobs these individuals tend to hold are riskier and more physically demanding, such as construction laborers, and are more hazardous to health. Learning deficiencies may also be associated with less awareness of safety precautions or lower compliance, raising the risk of occupational injuries.

“Second, disability limits the size of the workforce, to the extent that the disabled are prevented from working or unable to find work suited to their capacities,” Logue said. “Among Mississippians aged 21 to 64 in 2000, less than half of those with a disability were employed, compared to three out of four non-disabled people in that age group. Economic growth suffers when jobs go unfilled or productivity lags due to workers’ ill health.”

She added that disabled people who cannot work or who only work part time increase the state’s dependency burden since those who do work must support those who don’t.

“The combination of more dependents and fewer workers makes it difficult to raise per capita income and reduces the state tax collections that finance social programs, infrastructure development and many other needs,” she said.

She points to Mississippi’s highest-in-the-nation overweight and obesity rates as creating pressing public health problems and thus chronic disease.

“Overweight children, especially the growing numbers with diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure face a much higher risk of heart disease and stroke by the time they reach their 30s and 40s,” she said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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