Understanding three stages of prevention
There are three levels of prevention that we can include in our daily lives as and when we need.
1. Primary prevention
Primary prevention is focused on providing our bodies with the basic foundations of health that we all need. That includes a good diet, adequate sleep and enough movement for optimal wellbeing.
The statistics released annually by the Australian Government are often a wakeup call in terms of how many of us are not getting the basics right:
- 49.4% of employed people aged 18-64 years described their day at work as mostly sitting
- 27.2% people 15 years and over met the physical activity guidelines
- 25.8% Australians aged 18 and over exceeded the Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline in 2020-21
When it comes to primary prevention, the following resources can help provide best practice guidelines.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines – Evidence based recommendations on the types and amounts of foods Australians should eat to meet nutritional requirements
Getting enough sleep – A guide on sleep needs across the lifespan from newborns to adults and tips for a better nights sleep
Physical Activity and Exercise Guidelines – Australia’s physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines outline how much physical activity you should do by age and the importance of reducing the time you spend sitting or lying down.
2. Secondary prevention
Secondary prevention involves the early detection of conditions that we may not know we have and helps to reduce severity and impact. This includes visiting a General Practitioner on a regular basis to get the preventative screening tests that are recommended based on age, gender and specific risk factors.
According to the Australian Heart Foundation, nearly 350 heart attacks, strokes or heart-related deaths could be prevented in the next five years if 27,000 Heart Health Checks had not been missed or delayed due to COVID. In addition, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare noted 74,000 breast screening mammograms were performed in April 2018 compared to around 1,100 in April 2020.
A 15-minute visit with your GP to get your blood pressure, cholesterol or health check recommendations may just save your life.
3. Tertiary prevention
Tertiary prevention involves the management of known conditions to reduce complications or progression of that condition. This means following the advice of medical professionals, ensuring we maintain the foundational aspects of our health as well as getting regular checks for the condition.
Surprisingly, many of us are living with chronic conditions according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics findings across the 2020-21 period:
- 5.3% people living with diabetes
- 78.6% people had at least one long term condition
- 46.6% people suffered at least one chronic condition with the most common being mental health at 20.1%, a back condition at 15.7% and arthritis at 12.5%)
The benefits of prevention
Here are some of the reasons why prevention is better than cure:
Lower health care costs
The cost of being ill or injured is significant. Things can quickly mount up with treatment costs, time off work, additional lifestyle requirements such as childcare and carers to name a few. It makes sense to make prevention a priority to help reduce risk factors and slow their progression.
Better whole health
Taking care of our whole health each day helps us stay healthy or feel healthier. Following the three levels of health prevention is not just limited to our physical and mental health, it can benefit our social and financial health too. Taking a prevention-first approach can also boost overall wellbeing in your work and home life with greater productivity, zest and resilience.
Preventing future illnesses and complications from existing conditions, are vital to the future sustainability of health systems. Preventative health measures are better for us as individuals, better for our communities and ultimately better for our planet. In fact, a paper by the World Bank Document notes that ‘encouraging early patient diagnosis and management/ intervention and supporting patient compliance will promote longer, healthier living and reduce greenhouse gas emissions’.
There is no better time to review your own health habits – from the foundation pillars of good health across diet, sleep and movement, to booking in time to see your GP and committing to actively managing any known health conditions. Only you can take charge of your health and make healthy living a priority.