Thanks to the Internet by Mary Hartley, RD, MPH

Among the many provisions in the controversial health care reform law are the wellness and health promotion initiatives that mandate an investment in programs to maintain good health and prevent chronic disease. There’s enough research to support the value of an “ounce of prevention” (1) that I’d hope even the harshest critics of health care reform would agree it’s worth the effort. The Internet is poised to make achieving wellness goals easier than ever before – as long as the momentum behind it remains intact.

This provision – which will be enacted in parts over the next four years – was included in the law because the economic burden of chronic disease is taxing America. In 2006, our health care expenditure was over $7,000 per person and more than 75% of our health care spending is on people with chronic conditions. (2) Improved nutrition and fitness will help cut health costs while increasing worker productivity. The savings are in the tens of billions. The Trust for America’s Health estimates that an investment of $10 per person per year in community-based programs tackling physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and smoking could yield more than $16 billion in medical cost savings annually within 5 years. (3) And, thankfully, the stars are aligned in our favor.

Wellness services are often free, or cost very little, – and they are scalable – because of the Internet. For nutrition and obesity counseling, the realm that I know best, the options are completely changed from the past. Gone is the drive on congested roadways to a face-to-face appointment or class. Now, it’s help-yourself to free, high-quality online diet and fitness information with electronic food diaries and detailed nutrient analysis at the click of a mouse. Furthermore, some online services come with a million-strong community network there for support via laptop at any time of the day or night, and more importantly, anywhere and everywhere through mobile Web sites and smartphone apps. These Internet applications can link providers to patients as well insuring confidentiality with encrypted forms, password-protected pages, and secure Web meeting programs. They also sync with wireless medical devices and other “tech of the moment” gadgets.

In another portion of the health care act, restaurant operators were required to list calorie information on their menus as early as December 2010 according to the FDA. The National Restaurant Association praised the legislation and so it has solid support. Before online diet and nutrition sites, in order to meet this mandate, restaurateurs would have had to hire a nutritionist and/or purchase nutrition software to calculate the nutrients in a recipe. But now, these services and instruments exist online; they are accurate, easy–to-use, and they don’t cost a thing. With obstacles gone, nutrition information can be made available, even by small restaurants, and many consumers will choose to consider it, adding to the critical mass of people holding themselves accountable for their personal health.

There is no cost to access these powerful online tools, and this is largely due to ad support from businesses that have recognized the value of a supporting health-conscious initiatives. Today, companies are updating their marketing direction to become part of a universal weight-loss solution by advertising new, wholesome foods brought to the market by consumer demand. As a result, they are able to directly communicate with the growing number of health-conscious consumers who are joining with like-minded individuals in the online space.

The new healthcare reform law provides $5 billion over the next five years for the “prevention and public health fund.” That money is marked for launching initiatives that will redirect our current path to personal health perdition. Some members of Congress are hoping to repeal elements of the healthcare reform act in an effort to reduce national debt. While reducing debt is something we can all get behind, making such changes at the expense of wellness provisions of the health care reform law would be a disheartening setback; especially as Americans and online industry entrepreneurs are continuing to develop innovative ways of meeting prevention goals. Leveraging the online world for the distribution of free, or low-cost easy-to-access health information is just the beginning.

(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Power of Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2009. Available from:

(2) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Power of Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2009. Available from:

(3) National health expenditures aggregate, per capita amounts, percent distribution, and average annual percent growth, by source of funds: selected calendar years 1960–2007 [Internet]. Baltimore, MD: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; 2008. Available from:

Mary Hartley, RD, MPH, is director of nutrition for – a wellness website that provides free weight management tools, social support and nutritional information to help members reach their individual diet goals. To date, the site’s network of 2+ million users have lost more than 3,401,984 pounds.