[Column] Korea should curb health-damaging behaviors to improve health financing

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Climate change, fine dust, the humidifier sterilizer incident that killed many Koreans, frequent industrial incidents, garbage accumulation, alcohol and smoking, increasing obesity and mental illness – what do they have in common?


Lee Bo-hyoung, CEO of Macol Consulting Group


These are the growing shadows of the rapid expansion of modern civilization. We live in a society burdened with high health risks. Systematic control of health-damaging behaviors alone can help people avoid the risk of disease.


Alcohol, smoking and obesity are particularly dangerous behaviors that threaten people’s health. For example, data from the National Health Insurance Service showed the country’s medical expenses caused by alcohol and smoking recorded 3.2 trillion won ($2.5 billion) and 3.5 trillion won, respectively. in 2020.


The obesity-induced medical cost caused by the Covid-19 pandemic amounted to 4.6 trillion won in 2016.


We can prevent these three unhealthy behaviors from turning into diseases by providing accurate scientific information to consumers and the general public based on a systematic monitoring system.


Obesity, the largest medical expense, is managed through nutrient ingredient labeling for 176 processed foods, sugar reduction plans and sodium comparison labelling.


However, there is no concrete process for consumers to recognize the risk and refrain from consuming unhealthy foods. The medical community and the government are implementing various policies, but sugar consumption continues to rise in Korea.


In Korean culture, people are too generous to drink. The country has only a few regulations to control alcohol consumption, such as restrictions on advertising and drinking sites. For example, the alcohol harm prevention budget is less than 1 billion won per year, less than 1% of the smoking cessation budget. Calories and nutrients in alcoholic beverages, such as saccharides and saturated fat, are not consistently managed and disclosed.


Fortunately, Koreans have a social consensus on the need to quit smoking. Yet the smoking rate is over 20% even after the tobacco tax hike in 2015. The anti-smoking campaign has been running since the 1990s, but it no longer affects cigarette addicts. The regulator does not control the harmful chemicals in tobacco, with the exception of tar. Although various new reduced-risk cigarettes have appeared in the market, the country lacks measures such as health risk assessment to systematically manage them.


The first step in restricting health-damaging behaviors like drinking, smoking, and becoming obese is to provide accurate, science-based information about health-damaging behaviors. If government makes it easier to find the right information consistently, consumers can make wise choices. Rather than having numerous government agencies managing and regulating information individually, the task should be unified under one agency. If Korea can introduce a systematic and detailed system to control health-damaging behavior based on scientific information, health risks in daily life will decrease even a little.


The government and the medical community have struggled to manage the health of patients with chronic diseases and provide community care in primary medical institutions.


However, the government should put in place more aggressive policies such as granting incentives to individuals and companies that enhance social health-enhancing activities or expanding tax benefits for products that reduce risk. for health.

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