People with chronic diseases are often unaware of their health status

5 November 2008

A screening of 65,000 people across the US showed that many people, despite knowing that they have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or asthma, may not understand the extent or seriousness of their health problems.

The data was collected at local health screening events sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline to educate people on the impact of chronic diseases and encourage them to take better control of their health. GlaxoSmithKline partnered with the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD) and WebMD to help people become more engaged in managing their personal health.

A new offering, available at, will enable WebMD visitors to assess their own health risks and will provide a personalised self-assessment, with recommendations and an action plan/ doctor's report for the five biggest health risks.

The screenings found that many people with chronic diseases reported that they were in good health. However, results showed that this is often not the case. In a large percentage of those living with chronic diseases such as diabetes or asthma, screening results revealed that many of these chronic diseases were not in healthy ranges.

"These screening results show that we need to do a better job educating everyone about the dangers of living with chronic diseases. The public needs to know that making small changes toward healthier living, including avoiding tobacco usage, can have a big impact on their health regardless of whether or not they have a chronic disease," said John Robitscher, Executive Director, National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD).

"As chronic disease directors, we have an opportunity to intervene and motivate the public to take action. Not only can people find health information through their local, state and national health departments, but with more frequent visits to the doctor and tools such as the Big 5 Health Check, patients can better manage their risks and take action to prevent a decline in their overall health status."

What the data uncovered

  • although approximately 70% of participants reported their health to be "excellent":
    •  nearly half of those who reported that they had type 2 diabetes, or were shown to be at risk for developing it, showed poor glucose control based on a test that gives a picture of the average amount of sugar in the blood for the past two to three months to gauge how well one's diabetes treatment plan is working; and
    • nearly one-third of patients with asthma had poor control of their condition.
  • of the individuals with poorly controlled diabetes or asthma, approximately 70% had not visited a primary care physician in the last year:
    • similar results were uncovered for measures of obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
    • lack of insurance coverage for physician visits was likely not a factor, as the majority of screening participants reported having some type of health insurance.

Reasons for concern

People who do not manage their chronic diseases may develop further complications, leading to greater health problems. For example, patients with diabetes are at risk for cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation if they do not maintain control of their diabetes.

Every day in the United States, diabetes causes an estimated 194 amputations, 128 people to start therapy for end-stage kidney disease, and at least 33 people to lose their eyesight. Poorly controlled asthma can progress from mild and occasional symptoms to life threatening episodes.

Chronic diseases are the primary driver of healthcare spending in the US and account for $3 of every $4 spent on healthcare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preventive screenings and early intervention represent important steps in controlling the personal and financial costs of chronic diseases.

"In practical terms, we spend more money on the cost of a movie ticket or to change the oil in our cars, than we do on preventive health measures," continued Mr Robitscher. "Yet, a focus on preventing and better managing chronic diseases has the potential to save lives and money in the long-run, and this starts with changing the focus of our health care system from managing sickness to maintaining overall health through moderate changes in healthy behavior."

Reasons for hope

The Triple Solution for a Healthier America advocates a three-part approach to tackle chronic diseases. The goal of this initiative is to help improve health and lower healthcare costs by focusing on:

  • prevention (empowering people to make healthier choices and prevent chronic diseases);
  • intervention (helping individuals with chronic diseases get early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and quality care); and
  • innovation (continuing the search for better treatments and cures for chronic diseases through medical research and healthcare technologies).

To help Americans better maintain their health, Triple Solution for a Healthier America encourages people to use the Big 5 Health Check tool, now available at, to assess their risk of chronic diseases.

About the data

GSK screened approximately 65,000 individuals attending free health fairs in cities across the country over a four-year period as part of its Healthy Communities program. The results were analyzed to determine whether individuals were managing their health and to potentially aid in finding solutions that will allow them to make better decisions for healthier lifestyles and have more informed conversations with their healthcare providers. This aggregated data included anonymous patient-reported information as well as a limited set of clinical screening test values. However, not all of the individuals participated in each screening test because participation was voluntary.

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