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Japan needs to prioritize a ‘population health’ approach

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SEATTLE - Japan’s population is aging and declining faster than that of any other country. As such, the government, research institutions and the life science industry are highly incentivized to leverage Japan’s history of technical innovation to ease this burden. One of the lowest hanging and best fruits for improving health care outcomes remains unpicked: prioritizing population health and medicine.

Population health is often confused with public health but the two ideas are not the same. Public health focuses on which drugs, vaccines and large-scale campaigns can treat or prevent a disease. By contrast, population health focuses on understanding why some people are more likely than others to get sick and identifies interventions to reduce the rate of hospitalization or pharmaceutical intervention. Elderly individuals, for example, are particularly vulnerable to chronic lifestyle diseases and are among the most likely to suffer catastrophic health consequences if they are not detected early.

A focus on population health emphasizes proactive prevention to overcome the problems that drive poor health conditions. Advocates of this approach believe that successful initiatives require examining the societal structures, attitudes and behaviors that influence individual and group health. The complex influences on health mean that a range of interventions and approaches — from national spending and legislation around food, housing, education, employment and immigration to social networks and collective action at the local community level — are needed for population health.

This way of thinking has benefits for health and health care, but its implementation can be a policy nightmare. Nevertheless, Japan is supremely equipped to deal with such complex policy challenges as a result of its long history of encouraging healthy lifestyles. Moreover, this is another opportunity for Japan to lead the world in health care innovation and benefit directly as a result.

How would a population health approach benefit Japan? Consider diabetes and dementia. In 2016, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimated that 10 million adults had diabetes,........

© The Japan Times