Population health conceptAlthough no state is spared from the economic impacts of disease, there is an almost 60% disparity in disease burden per capita between the states with the highest and lowest burdens.

One fundamental lesson of 2020 is that health and the economy are inextricably linked, with the pandemic reducing real GDP by as much as 11%. Rethinking health as investment, not just an expense, can not only improve the health of millions of Americans but also accelerate economic growth, according to a new report from McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).

Every year, MGI estimates that poor health costs the United States around 16% of real GDP from premature deaths and lost productive potential among the working-age population. Without action, this is expected to get worse. Over the next two decades, the U.S. disease burden is forecast to increase by about 20% as age-and lifestyle-related diseases rise, such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and neurological disorders.

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Although no state is spared, there is an almost 60%  disparity in disease burden per capita between the states with the highest and lowest burdens. And in addition to state-level differences, there are disparities in disease burden and health outcomes within states as well as across ages, gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status in the United States.

Based on its analysis, MGI finds that by deploying existing proven approaches to improve health and prevent and treat diseases, the United States could reduce its disease burden by as much as one-third by 2040. Realizing this opportunity will require significant changes, not just in the provision of health care but in society more broadly. MGI identified four imperatives to capture this opportunity:

1. Recognize health as a “growth lever” and critical component of the economy.  “In other words, an investment, not a cost. This will enable us to make the right investments to drive long-term health, kickstarting the virtuous cycle of health and economic prosperity.”

2. Focus as much on health as we do on illness. “The real question is how to shift from a focus on disease care to a mindset of disease prevention and health promotion while ensuring effective acute care services and sufficient capacity to deal with surges and crises.”

3. Double down on innovation and provide better solutions to long-term challenges. “Scientific advances hold great promise to address many of the challenges we face with more effective, convenient and acceptable interventions, which would improve the toolkit available to us today, provide new solutions for diseases we cannot yet cure or prevent and combat new threats such as novel coronaviruses.”

4. Maintain health as a priority for all. ”COVID-19 has put health on the agenda of every organization, large and small, including organizations that historically have not focused on health.”

“While we recognize that capturing the opportunity is no easy task, we find that it would be well worth the effort,” the report concluded. “Improving the health of Americans has the potential to be a societal and economic game-changer.”

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