State and federal governments, private insurers, large employers and anyone else concerned about soaring health-care costs should take a close look at the results of a health education program that Stanford University researchers ran in Monterey and Salinas. The five-year program was popular, innovative and, most important of all, effective. All this at a cost of about $2.65 a year per person!
The program's core was a media blitz, using TV commercials, direct mail, newspaper columns and the like, that told people what they can do to live better and longer. Three areas in particular were highlighted: the benefits of regular exercise, the dangers of smoking, the risks of eating too much fat and salt. The effort paid off.
The program, funded with $15 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, included monitoring the health of 600 persons. In Monterey and Salinas, Stanford researchers found that the communitywide smoking rate dropped by 24% over the life of the program, compared to only 9% in Modesto and San Luis Obispo, cities used as control groups. Blood pressure, serum cholesterol and resting pulse rates also fell.
What do these numbers mean in terms of lives that could be saved? John Farquhar, chief researcher on the project, says that reducing the major risk factors for heart disease and stroke could help prevent as many as 800 heart attacks in Monterey County in the current decade. If the education programs were used nationally, says William Harlan of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, as many as 250,000 heart attacks a year could be prevented.