Prevention trumps treatment

chicken basket

Those born outside the Southeast, who didn't move to the region until after they were 21, have much better odds of avoiding a stroke than their Southeastern born-and-bred counterparts.

That news came at the fourth annual Emory/Georgia Tech symposium on predictive health.

"If you were not born in the Southeast, but you're living here, you have a protective factor," said Daniel Lackland, a cardiovascular epidemiologist at the Medical University of South Carolina, who spoke at the conference. "There's something that's happening in early life that seems to make the difference."

Epidemiologists have long pegged the region as the Stroke Belt, but just what may be happening when it comes to stroke and disease has become of increasing interest in the relatively new field of predictive health. Predictive health draws on a new paradigm to define unique characteristics that predict disease risks for individuals and populations. It uses new discoveries in biomedicine to emphasize health maintenance and recovery rather than treatment of disease.

With an emphasis on quality of life through disease prevention and health maintenance, predictive health also promises to bolster the economic fitness and quality of U.S. health care. "We can all agree that the past few months mark the beginning of a new economic and political era in the United States, said Fred Sanfilippo, Emory's executive vice president for health affairs, who kicked off the symposium. "The time is right for some new solutions to our broken health care delivery system, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the predictive, personalized health approach is one
of the innovative answers to our current crisis."

The recent symposium focused on biomedical factors that integrate biology, behavior, and the environment. Presenters examined new ways to define and measure health, the role of pharmaceuticals and genomics in personalized medicine, and the economic benefits of health promotion and disease prevention.

What the United States truly needs to embrace, according to presenter Kim Rask, a health policy expert at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health, are the economic benefits of health promotion. Not only do we pay much more for our health care than other countries, says Rask, we also perform relatively poorly compared with other industrialized countries in rates of mortality. —Robin Tricoles

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emory health summer