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Bad health habits cost you 12 years of life

Someone who was 18 in 1985 had the death risk of a 50 year old in 2005 by ignoring the rules. About 20% of the people in the original sample died during the study.

A Norwegian study of almost 5,000 people, conducted over 20 years, has concluded you can cut your life short 12 years by ignoring four simple health rules. (Picture from CBS News.)

Smoking, drinking just 5-7 ounces of pure alcohol per week, eating fruits and veggies fewer than three times a day, and exercising less than two hours per week aged participants an additional 12 years over the course of the study.

Put baldly, someone who was 18 in 1985 had the death risk of a 50 year old in 2005 by ignoring the rules. About 20% of the people in the original sample died during the study.

What makes this an IT story? Your coming electronic health record (EHR) will put these risks in front of you. Population studies counting the cost of your bad habits will grow more refined and easier to do. And the whole point of an EHR is to improve health by changing habits.

The health IT industry, in other words, is being subsidized and justified by the bad habits of the nation. It will be measured based on its success in changing these habits.

You may just say, fine, that's my business. And it is your business. But as with the uninsured factory worker getting basic health care in an emergency room, other people pay for it.

Those thousand people did not go quietly into that good night. Over 430 died from heart trouble, 318 from cancer. Diabetes is not cheap, either. Most American health care costs pay for chronic conditions like these.

"Modest but achievable adjustments to lifestyle behaviors are likely to have a considerable impact," said Dr. Elizabeth Kvaavik, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Oslo.

Much of the damage, in other words, can be reversed. When I was 35 I had bad back pain, constant headaches, and (it turned out) a deadly cholesterol count due to these bad habits. The changes I made were modest, medication helped, and I feel younger at 55 than I did back then.

One result of this study is to endorse the "nanny state" attitudes that have proven unpopular in the talkbacks here. Prevention can save your life, but it can also save me money, in lower insurance costs and reduced use of expensive hospital facilities.

Another result is to show that money spent on young people is not wasted. Habits are formed in your 20s, some of which may kill you. Wellness services that reverse these habits more than pay for themselves.

The bottom line is that it pays for me to try and keep you alive.

UPDATE: Wait, there's more. A CDC study shows 45% of us have some expensive, chronic health problem - cholesterol, blood pressure, or diabetes. And one in seven of us don't even know.