Stopping trouble before it starts


While other key components of disease management programs (diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, monitoring) represent steps along a path toward recovery (or at least harm reduction) for already-affected individuals, prevention is different; it’s a set of strategies for helping people avoid ever needing to get on that path in the first place.

Preventive healthcare is the science of observing past disease patterns and anticipating which measures can be taken to minimize the future occurrence of disease in individuals and populations.

Given that, from 2008 to 2010, an estimated 40% of all deaths in the U.S. were from causes that could have been avoided,1 prevention efforts are clearly an urgent and ongoing need.

To address that need, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion was established in 1987 with a mission of studying chronic diseases with a focus on intervention. The Center continues to research and discover what works best while providing funding, guidance, and essential information on its findings to cities, states, territories and tribes.

The layered model used by NCCDPHP represents an evolving standard for disease prevention, and can be thought of as a four-pronged approach:

  1. Epidemiology and surveillance
    • Collecting information on chronic diseases and their social and environmental risk factors
    • Measuring existing community reach of preventive services such as cancer screening
    • Monitoring disease-related policies such as water fluoridation and smoke-free air
  2. Environmental
    • Banning, restricting, regulating items with well-established negative impacts on public health such as cigarettes and trans fats
    • Encouraging walking and biking, including at a community-planning level
    • Improving access to healthy foods at restaurants, grocery stores, farmer’s markets
  3. Health care system interventions
    • Improving access to cancer screening and other preventive services in under-served communities
    • Optimizing the efforts of medical professionals and other healthcare workers to maximize reach and quality of care
    • Improving access to health care by people with little or no insurance
  4. Community programs and clinical services
    • Linking public services (such as smoking “quitlines”) to healthcare systems
    • Guiding community healthcare workers in helping residents manage their healthcare
    • Teaching and inspiring people to take more control of their own health and well-being

In 2021 and beyond, with the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, the accompanying cascade of related physical and mental health hurdles—and the emergence of vaccination programs that limit the damage done to individuals and communities—preventive healthcare is set to play a role more important than ever on the disease management stage.



1. Park, Alice. “Preventable Deaths: CDC Says 40% of Deaths Each Year Can Be Avoided.” Time, 1 May 2014,