Disease classification
January 11, 2012 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way that the medical field classifies diseases based on how preventative they are by an individual's actions? For instance obesity related diseases are very preventable but genetic diseases are not very preventable.
posted by bucksox to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Your premise is flawed. Diseases "related to" any given behavior are not exclusively experienced by people who have engaged in that behavior. Also, weight is not a behavior, and it is not necessarily the result of behaviors that vary from the norm--some people with low body weights eat more than some people with high body weights.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:41 AM on January 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

That said, although the medical profession only calls things "preventable diseases" when they can be avoided by vaccination, the concept of "preventable disease" is a big buzzword in public health and public policy circles right now.

The government of Australia, for instance, created a National Preventive Health Agency last year.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:47 AM on January 11, 2012

If I'm understanding your question correctly, I think you're looking for epidemiology, or something very like it.
Epidemiology is the study of health-events, health-characteristics or health-determinant patterns in a population. It is the cornerstone method of public health research, and helps inform policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive medicine. Epidemiologists are involved in the design of studies, collection and statistical analysis of data, and interpretation and dissemination of results (including peer review and occasional systematic review). Major areas of epidemiological work include outbreak investigation, disease surveillance and screening (medicine), biomonitoring, and comparisons of treatment effects such as in clinical trials. Epidemiologists rely on a number of other scientific disciplines such as biology (to better understand disease processes), biostatistics (to make efficient use of the data and draw appropriate conclusions), and exposure assessment and social science disciplines (to better understand proximate and distal risk factors, and their measurement).
posted by rtha at 11:49 AM on January 11, 2012

They aren't disease classifications, but the concept of non-modifiable vs. modifiable risk factors may be helpful here.
posted by Wordwoman at 11:57 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's plenty of epidemiological research on what portion of deaths and disease are preventable. For example, here's an overview of one article with a link to the original research.

Yes, Sidhedevil, even people who live a perfectly healthy life can get "preventable" diseases, but behaviors affect risk. The first step of this kind of research is to look at the links between behavior and diseases. From the technical article: "[The researchers used] estimates of how much each risk factor increases the risk of death from each disease from published studies."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:59 AM on January 11, 2012

Part of the problem with classifying things by 'how preventible' is that the research-based answer changes, as particular risk factors are understood better. For example, there's a good deal of research suggesting that obesity isn't necessarily as modifiable as we might like: a good overview.
posted by brackish.line at 12:10 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

To my knowledge, the medical field does not classify diseases this way. That wouldn't be scientific. For instance, you can get lung cancer even if you don't smoke; or you can be obese and not get diabetes or heart disease. Regardless of how you got it, usually the treatment does not change.

The concept of prevention does come into play in general medicine (your personal doctor), epidemiology, holistic health, nutrition, health maintenance (the original idea of an HMO), and other aspects of the field. Where prevention is truly paramount is in the field of public health -- the CDC, vaccination, risk factor awareness, and areas of that ilk.

Part of the problem for individuals is that the health insurance model in the US is heavily geared toward the treatment end of things -- medical equipment (e.g. MRI), pills, and other aspects centered around hospitalization. The chemotherapy and dialysis clinics at a new hospital in town are almost regal in their welcoming presentation.

You may get better answers if you reframe your question for us. What is your underlying concern here?
posted by dhartung at 1:16 PM on January 11, 2012

As far as I know, in a technical sense a disease is only "Preventable" if we've got a vaccination for it or if specific hygiene or dietary actions are in view, i.e. "Do this and you won't get that." So measles and the mumps are "preventable" because we've got a perfectly serviceable vaccine. Scurvy and rickets are "preventable" by an adequate intake of vitamins C and D, respectively. These are pretty much guaranteed "preventions," in that someone who takes the vaccine/gets enough vitamins is more than 99% certain not to get the diseases in question.

But using "preventable" to describe diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. is sort of misleading. The biggest risk factor for all of them, like, absolutely far and away the biggest risk factor, is age. Diet, exercise, regular checkups, all these things may delay the onset of various diseases, but it won't stop you from getting them eventually. Look at the numbers. About 2.4 million people died in 2009, and 1.6 million of them died of heart disease or cancer. But 1.8 million of the total were over age 65. That's a whole lotta old people. And guess what? The death rate is still 1.0. So while some people may not get heart disease or cancer, or whatever, there isn't any single thing that we can point to and say "Do this and you won't get that." So describing them as "preventable" is a bit of a stretch.
posted by valkyryn at 1:41 PM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

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