In my first year at the Community Foundation, every day I learned new information about our community. While I do not expect this steep learning curve to taper off any time soon, I have started to see some emerging trends. In working with and supporting multiple program areas such as Education, Human Services and Health and Science, a common theme has revealed itself again and again. Simply no matter the problem, treatment is no substitute for prevention. If that is the case, why as a society do we put off preventable problems until the treatment stage. We should not wait until a new year to make a resolution. We must turn our attention to proactive measures rather than reactive ones.
In healthcare we know lifelong prevention or proactive early intervention is both more effective and less costly than treatment. For example, we know a healthy diet and moderate exercise can help prevent any number of health issues including diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Yet, according to the American Diabetes Association diagnosed diabetes costs America a staggering $327 billion dollars annually. These costs have apparently increased 25% over only a five-year period. They include direct costs like patient care and medications but also indirect costs to employers like increased absenteeism and reduced productivity. This health crisis results in a substantial financial burden on our society. As a result, it is imperative to turn our efforts toward early prevention and intervention of preventable illnesses.
According to Step Forward’s 2017 Report to The Community, only 46.3% of children in our community entered public school “kindergarten ready.” This means on the first day of kindergarten 53.7% of children were already behind. Once a child falls behind in school, it is more difficult to catch them up. Thus, early intervention measures like parent education about the importance of early brain development for children ages 0-3, nurse family partnerships, adequate childcare and preschool are vital to ensuring the academic success of children once they have entered the school system. The academic success of our children helps to ensure the economic success of our entire community.
Prevention and early intervention of mental health issues must also be made a high priority. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, toxic stress is defined as “the excessive or prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems in the absence of the buffering protection afforded by stable, responsive relationships.” Toxic stress in children can result from things like abuse, neglect, alcoholism and drug addiction of a parent or parents, incarceration of a parent, and/or abuse of a parent by another adult. Toxic stress experienced by children increase the incidence of not only mental health issues in their adult lives but is also closely associated with higher incidences of adult alcoholism, drug addiction, heart disease, and diabetes (just to name a few). Early screening and treatment of children experiencing toxic stress can result in improved health outcomes throughout their lives. Bottom line, early prevention and intervention is much less costly.
As a community we must adjust our mindset to be more prevention focused. At the Community Foundation we resolve to support both prevention and treatment. Our hope is one day down the road the scales will tip in favor of prevention.
This article was originally published in the Shreveport Times on January 27, 2019.