Understanding Chronic Disease

What is Chronic Disease? (Center for Managing Chronic Disease)

Chronic Disease is a long-lasting condition that can be controlled but not cured. Chronic illness affects the population worldwide. As described by the Centers for Disease Control, chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. It accounts for 70% of all deaths in the U.S., which is 1.7 million each year. Data from the World Health Organization show that chronic disease is also the major cause of premature death around the world even in places where infectious disease are rampant. Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems, they are also among the most preventable and most can be effectively controlled.

Circles of Influence of Chronic Disease

Above: Circles of Influence in Self-Management of Chronic Disease

Chronic Disease Statistics


  • 7.1 million (9.5%) U.S. children have asthma [source]
  • 10.5 million school days were missed due to asthma among children 5-17 years old in 2008 [source]
  • 754,000 emergency department visits were related to child asthma in 2004 [source]
  • 18.9 million (8.2%) U.S. adults have asthma [source]
  • 1.8 million visits to emergency departments were related to asthma in 2004 [source]

Alzheimer’s Disease

  • 7,900 (7.5%) hospice patients have Alzheimer's as a primary diagnosis [source]
  • 231,900 (15.5%) nursing home residents have Alzheimer's Disease [source]
  • 83,494 annual deaths are due to Alzheimer’s Disease [source]
  • Cause of Death Rank: 6 [source]
  • An estimated 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease [source]

Breast Cancer

  • In 2009, 211,731 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. [source]
  • 40,676 cancer deaths occurred in the U.S. in 2009 [source]
  • 2,591,855 American women were alive in 2007 who had a history of breast cancer [source]
  • Cause of Death Rank for Women: 2 [source]
  • Breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women, no matter your race or ethnicity [source]


  • 11.9% of adults 20 years+ have diabetes (diagnosed or undiagnosed) [source]
  • 8.5% of adults 20 years+ have diagnosed diabetes [source]
  • 37.3 million medical visits have diabetes as a primary diagnosis [source]
  • 362,000 (24%) nursing home residents have diabetes in the U.S. [source]
  • 69,071 annual deaths are due to diabetes in the U.S. [source]
  • Cause of Death Rank: 7 [source]
  • $174 billion is the estimated total annual cost of diabetes in America [source]
  • $116 billion is the total direct annual medical costs due to diabetes in the U.S. [source]
  • $58 billion is the total indirect annual costs (disability, work loss, premature mortality) due to diabetes in the U.S. [source]
  • 25.8 million people in the U.S. have diabetes [source]
  • 7 million people have undiagnosed diabetes in the U.S. [source]
  • 1.9 million: Number of new cases of diabetes diagnosed in people aged 20 years+ in 2010 [source]
  • 1 in 3: Ratio of Americans who will develop diabetes by 2050 [source]


  • About 2.8 million Americans are affected by Epilepsy [source]
  • 10% of people will experience a seizure sometime during their lifetime [source]
  • 150,000 new cases of epilepsy are diagnosed in the United States annually [source]
  • $15.5 billion: Estimated annual medical costs and lost or reduced earnings and production due to Epilepsy in the U.S. [source]

Food & Fitness

  • 69.2% of adults age 20 years+ are overweight or obese [source]
  • 35.9% of adults age 20 years+ are obese [source]
  • 18.4% of adolescents age 12-19 years are overweight [source]
  • 18% of children age 6-11 years are overweight [source]
  • 12.1% of children age 2-5 years are overweight [source]
  • 21% of adults engaged in regular aerobic and muscle-strengthening leisure-time activities in the U.S. in 2011 [source]
  • 48% of adults met neither the aerobic nor muscle-strengthening guidelines for physical activity in the U.S. in 2011 [source]

Heart Disease

  • 26.5 million (11.5%) adults have heart disease in the United States [source]
  • 12.4 million annual medical visits and 2 million annual hospital outpatient department visits have heart disease as primary diagnosis in the U.S. [source, source]
  • 135,700 (9.3%) home healthcare patients with heart disease as primary diagnosis [source]
  • 597,689 annual deaths are due to heart disease in the U.S. [source]
  • Cause of death rank: 1 [source]

Spinal Cord Injury

  • In the U.S., about 200,000 people are living with a spinal cord injury [source]
  • $15,000-$30,000: Average annual medical cost [source]
  • Lifetime costs of a spinal cord injury can vary from $500,000 to more than $3 million depending on the severity of the injury [source]
  • 46% of spinal cord injuries are the result of motor vehicle accidents [source]
  • About 50-70% of injuries occur in 15-35 year olds [source]

Chronic Diseases and Health Promotion (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Chronic diseases – such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and arthritis – are among the most common, costly, and preventable of all health problems in the U.S.

Chronic Diseases are the Leading Causes of Death and Disability in the U.S.

  • 7 out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases. Heart disease, cancer and stroke account for more than 50% of all deaths each year.1
  • In 2005, 133 million Americans – almost 1 out of every 2 adults – had at least one chronic illness.2
  • Obesity has become a major health concern. 1 in every 3 adults is obese3 and almost 1 in 5 youth between the ages of 6 and 19 is obese (BMI ≥ 95th percentile of the CDC growth chart).4
  • About one-fourth of people with chronic conditions have one or more daily activity limitations.5
  • Arthritis is the most common cause of disability, with nearly 19 million Americans reporting activity limitations.6
  • Diabetes continues to be the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic lower-extremity amputations, and blindness among adults, aged 20-74.7
  • Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., behind diet and physical activity and tobacco. 8

Four Common Causes of Chronic Disease

Four modifiable health risk behaviors—lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption—are responsible for much of the illness, suffering, and early death related to chronic diseases.

  • More than one-third of all adults do not meet recommendations for aerobic physical activity based on the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, and 23% report no leisure-time physical activity at all in the preceding month.9
  • In 2007, less than 22% of high school students10 and only 24% of adults11 reported eating 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • More than 43 million American adults (approximately 1 in 5) smoke.12
  • In 2007, 20% of high school students in the United States were current cigarette smokers.13
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and cigarette smoking causes almost all cases. Compared to nonsmokers, men who smoke are about 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer and women who smoke are about 13 times more likely. Smoking causes about 90% of lung cancer deaths in men and almost 80% in women. Smoking also causes cancer of the voicebox (larynx), mouth and throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, and stomach, and causes acute myeloid leukemia.14
  • Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to over 54 different diseases and injuries, including cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast, liver diseases, and other cardiovascular, neurological, psychiatric, and gastrointestinal health problems.15
  • Binge drinking, the most dangerous pattern of drinking (defined as consuming more than 4 drinks on an occasion for women or 5 drinks for men) is reported by 17% of U.S. adults, averaging 8 drinks per binge.16