Prevention: The Other Story

What many do not know is that it is precisely prevention that has been the success story of the past 150 years. Thanks to social and technological innovations such as universal compulsory education, birth care, vaccinations, drinking water supplies, sewers, crash barriers and traffic circles, safer workplaces and general hygiene measures, our life expectancy has increased by 35 years. All of these innovations have become such a common part of our living environment that collectively we often leave them unmentioned when we talk about prevention. We have become more or less unconsciously competent. Better health care has added another 5.5 years to that life expectancy.

All in all, then, the biggest gains come not so much from better diagnostics, drugs or life-saving surgery, but from the many often unnamed preventive services in the living environment. A living environment in which the government is structurally investing across the board, well considered even more than in healthcare. In addition, there is still a large, partly known and perhaps still unknown but mainly untapped prevention potential, a potential that can be even better utilized by means of, for example, modern data technology and infrastructure and sustainable poverty reduction.

There seems to be a broad consensus that we do too little on prevention and that Dutch society and government spend considerably more on care than on prevention1. Assuming the broadness of provisions that contribute to prevention, this is incorrect. Dutch society and government invest markedly and unwittingly structurally across the board in prevention, properly speaking even more than in care. Before addressing the untapped potential of prevention and the opportunities for the coming decades, it is essential to look back in order to clear up the aforementioned misunderstanding.

This article was written by Nico van Meeteren (Health~Holland), Katarina Jerkovic (Hogeschool Utrecht), Henk Garretsen (Tilburg University), Diederick Grobbee (Hoogleraar Klinische Epidemiologie, Julius Centrum voor Gezondheidswetenschappen en Eerstelijns Geneeskunde, Universitair Medisch Centrum Utrecht), Jochen Mierau (RUG), Hanneke Molema (TNO Gezond Leven), Pieter van Megchelen (freelance wetenschapsjournalist), Maggy Sallons (Health~Holland), Jannica Swieringa (Health~Holland) en Hanna Groen (voormalig Health~Holland collega).