Why Do So Many People Have a Chronic Disease?

Nov 06, 2023
Why Do So Many People Have a Chronic Disease?
Chronic disease may not be an inevitable part of aging, but because the risk factors are embedded in our culture, you may put your future health at risk. Keep reading to learn why so many people have at least one chronic disease.

Six out of every 10 adults in the United States have a chronic disease, and 4 in 10 have two or more conditions, according to the CDC. A chronic disease is broadly defined as one that lasts a year or more and requires ongoing medical attention and/or limits activities of daily living or both. Chronic diseases are also the leading causes of death and disability in the US, as well as the leading drivers of the country’s $4.1 trillion in annual health care costs.

The percentage of health care costs associated with chronic disease is disproportionate to the number of people who have at least one. Some 84% of health care costs go toward the treatment of chronic disease, and the rates are even higher for beneficiaries in public health insurance programs. Ninety-nine percent of Medicare recipients are being treated for chronic conditions.

At Primecare Family Practice, board-certified family practitioners Maryline Ongangi, APRN, FNP-C and Lewis Nyantika, APRN, FNP-C understand how prevalent chronic disease is, which is why they offer chronic disease management for their patients in Arlington, Texas. Looking at the numbers, many people ask why chronic disease is so common. Here, the team addresses the issue.

Risk factors for chronic disease

When you look at the risk factors for chronic illness, it may shock you — the list is very short for the large number of chronic conditions.

  • Tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Poor nutrition; diets low in produce and high in sodium and saturated fats
  • Sedentary lifestyle

It may seem shocking that a First World population should struggle with disease to the extent that we do, but these common risk factors are pervasive in our culture, making it hard for people to live as healthily as they should.

How do risk factors translate into chronic disease?

To understand how chronic disease establishes itself, let’s look more closely at the risk factors.


Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, from your skin to your heart. Smoking can lead to heart disease, many types of cancer, stroke, lung diseases, and type 2 diabetes, among others. If you’re pregnant and smoke, you increase the risk for both premature birth and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Secondhand smoke affects 58 million Americans who don’t smoke, but it can cause stroke, lung cancer, and heart disease in nonsmoking adults. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for SIDS, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks.

Poor nutrition

Many people try to eat a healthy diet, but when healthy options aren’t available, they readily settle for foods that are higher in calories, sodium, saturated fat, and sugar and lower in nutritional value, and the habit becomes ingrained. This can lead to obesity, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

We should note, though, that many people in low-income communities, as well as some racial and ethnic groups, often lack access to convenient places that offer healthier foods at a price they can afford, making poor nutrition a public health crisis.

Physical inactivity

Regular physical activity, both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, can improve people’s health now and in the future. This holds true for people of all races, ethnicities, sizes, and abilities. Even short periods of physical activity can improve health.

Physical activity:

  • Prevents unhealthy weight gain
  • Reduces the risk of many chronic diseases
  • Helps reduce feelings of anxiety
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Improves cognitive ability and reduces risk of dementia
  • Improves bone and musculoskeletal health

As with good nutrition, opportunities for physical activity aren’t equal for everyone. People who live in neighborhoods with poor sidewalk and street infrastructure, few safe spaces, and few destinations within walking or biking distance from their home, are limited in their ability to get enough exercise. Creating activity-friendly communities not only allows for activity, but also supports the local economies by increasing retail activity and employment.

Chronic disease is not an inevitable part of growing older. Being proactive about your health by adopting a few healthy lifestyle changes can make all the difference in the world. If you haven’t had a check-up in a while, it’s time to come into Primecare Family Practice to determine your risk factors and learn more about getting and staying healthy.

To get started, call us at 817-873-3710, or book online with us today.