Research outlines three prevention types

Recent research from Trust for America's Health (TFAH) says there are three types of prevention: primary, secondary, and tertiary:

  • Primary prevention involves taking action before a problem arises to avoid it entirely, rather than treating or alleviating its consequences. Primary prevention can include clinical interventions such as specific immunizations. It also can include broader public health interventions such as clean water and sewage systems, fortification of food with specific nutrients such as folic acid, and protection from carcinogens such as secondhand smoke.
  • Secondary prevention is a set of measures used for early detection and prompt intervention to control a problem or disease and minimize the consequences.
  • Tertiary prevention focuses on reducing further complications of an existing disease or problem through treatment and rehabilitation.

TFAH says its model is based on studies of strategic low-cost community-based primary and secondary prevention efforts that have demonstrated results in lowering disease rates or improving health choices, but don't involve direct medical care.

While poor health is putting the country's economic security in jeopardy, the report says, America's health care system currently is set up to focus on treating people once they have a problem. Some experts have described this approach as "sick care" rather than health care.

Out country must start focusing on how to prevent people from getting sick, the authors say, with an emphasis on improving the choices we make that affect our risk for preventable diseases. "Experts widely agree that three of the most important factors that influence our health are physical activity; nutrition, including eating foods of high nutritional value and in the right quantities; and whether we smoke," they says. "As a nation, if we develop strategies and programs that help more Americans become physically active, practice good nutrition, and stop smoking and other tobacco use, while also helping our youth from ever starting smoking or other unhealthy practices, we could have a tremendous payoff, both in improving health and reducing health care costs."

TFAH executive director Jeffrey Levi says that having done the first community-level survey on this issue, TFAH now will work to spread the message in hopes of engaging in conversations about it with policymakers. "Our goal is to make prevention policies an integral part of health care reform," Levi says.