Monday, September 10, 2007

The Obesity Epidemic--It's Time to Deal With it the Same Way We Did Smoking

While we debate just how we will change our health care financing system so that more people can be insured at an affordable cost, we are too often overlooking one of the biggest drivers of health care costs--America's obesity epidemic.

The latest report on obesity in America by the Trust for America's Health found that the problem is growing at an ever larger rate despite recent "wellness" initiatives and attention to the problem.

In the past year, obesity rates have gone up in 31 states, and no state saw an improvement.

The report said that two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese!

In 32 states, 60% of the population (including children) is overweight or obese! Mississippi leads the nation with 30% of its people obese.

Presidential candidates can talk about covering the uninsured or making the health insurance markets more efficient all they want until we look this national epidemic in the eye.

Ken Thorpe of Emory University is a health care economist I have come to greatly respect over the years. This from an overview of his 2005 study on the impact obesity has on America's health care costs:

"The obesity epidemic has caused a tenfold increase in the nation's private health insurance bill for conditions related to being overweight, according to a self-funded study by researchers with the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health published today in the online version of the journal Health Affairs. According to the study the cost of treating conditions linked to obesity increased from $3.6 billion to $36.5 billion between 1987 and 2002. The study concludes that the best way to lower healthcare spending is to target the rise in population risk factors -- especially obesity."

"Current approaches to controlling healthcare costs are not working because they ignore the true drivers of those costs,' Dr. Thorpe says. 'Increases in the number of people getting treatment for serious health problems like diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and mental disorders are directly linked to population increases in obesity. If insurers and employers are serious about reining in health care spending, then obesity prevention should be at the top of their agenda."

Today, being fat has almost become a protected class. It is not OK to be fat.

Twenty years ago, we began a crusade against smoking that has made a difference and generally made nicotine socially unacceptable and I don't remember any anti-smoking campaign ever making it personal.

We need to do the same thing with obesity--it's killing more Americans and creating chronic disease beyond anything cigarettes ever did!

The youngest generation now looks like it is going to be the first to be less healthy than the one that came before them.

It's also making America's health care bill unaffordable for all of us.

Related Post: United Health Launches a New Health Plan That Rewards Healthy Workers--Immediately Criticized for "Turning Health Care Into a Police State."
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