The burden of chronic disease poses a serious challenge to the sustainability of health care in the United States. The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease highlighted in a recent release that 75 percent of what America spends on health care goes to treating chronic illnesses. In Medicare and Medicaid alone, chronic disease treatment accounts for more than 95 percent of spending.

The burden of chronic disease, however, is not a challenge faced only in the United States. A recent newsletter from McKinsey Quarterly highlights the huge impact of chronic conditions, which now claim at least three-quarters of all health care spending in most developed countries. One government-run health insurer in Germany, for example, has costs totaling more than €6 billion, including €4.9 billion for chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease (€760 million) and diabetes (€500 million).

Share of costs for chronic and non-chronic conditions at a German SHI fund, 2007, € million

More troubling is the growing evidence of the impact chronic disease in low-and-middle income countries. The World Health Organization estimates that heart disease, stroke and diabetes cost low-and middle-income countries up to 5% of GDP. By 2030, NCD-related deaths in Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia will grow by over 50%.

This week, the World Health Organization hosts the first Global Ministerial Conference on Healthy Lifestyles and Non-Communicable Diseases Control in an attempt to address the impact of these diseases.

While this global focus is an important recognition of the public health challenge posed by chronic conditions, it's important that we take action to prevent and better manage these conditions. Addressing chronic diseases head on is an important step in improving our health care and ensuring its future sustainability.

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