Preventive healthcare is about avoiding suffering and higher social costs. It includes healthy eating and more movement, but for example, also making sure you take your medication on time if you have a chronic condition, reducing stress levels, early medication of chronic illnesses or intervention at the first signs that a child is developing differently from his peers. It is about the human psyche and behaviour as well as physical problems. Prevention also works for people who are already ill: for example, by reducing drug use, particularly harmful drug use, or by correctly predicting in advance what complications may arise and acting to combat them. The line between prevention and healthcare is becoming ever thinner.
The benefits of good preventive measures can be enormous. Research at Leiden University shows that of young students who display signs of early behavioural problems, 75% benefit from rapid intervention. 80% of patients with type 2 diabetes can be cured if they move more and eat better. And 80% of cardiovascular diseases can be prevented with a healthier lifestyle. In addition to these hopeful figures, there are further useful developments in this field. A lot of knowledge is available today about disease prevention, both physical and psychological. And prevention is in line with the current zeitgeist: people want to take control of their lives. They are willing to do what’s necessary to stay healthy and if they are sick, they would like to be treated as a human being, and not as a condition.
A personal approach is one of the pillars of good prevention. The question should not be: How likely is it statistically that an child who often plays truant from school and displays aggressive behaviour will slide into crime? The question should be: Will this child slip into a life of crime? What indicators are there that this can happen to this particular child? What are the causes of his behaviour? What is the right kind of care to treat these causes?
This usually requires a completely different approach from what classical healthcare is used to delivering. For this reason, Leiden University combines conducting fundamental research with applying the findings of that research in the practical environment. The interventions the researchers test are always based on fundamental research, often their own work. Conversely, fundamental scientists always talk with clinicians to ensure that their research provides solutions to practical problems. They want to know why an intervention works, what happens in the brain and how the intervention can be improved. This collaboration is unique to Leiden University.
Dean of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and Professor of Educational Sciences Hanna Swaab comments, “In Leiden, we are working hard to understand each other's language. Ten years ago, the University set out a policy to link medicine, the exact sciences and social sciences, which has worked wonderfully.”