OBESITY & HEALTH REFORM

A recent survey shows that more than one in three adults and one in six children in America are obese — and that rate isn’t going down.  Obesity is an epidemic that, for obvious reasons, is attracting a lot of national attention, including the White House initiative, “Let’s Move” led by the efforts of First Lady Michelle Obama.  Mrs. Obama’s efforts attracted some criticism, but it begs the question — should obesity be included in health reform?

Obesity costs our health system about $150 billion dollars and is a major risk factor for a number of intensive health problems. Given that health reform focuses on improving health conditions at an affordable price, Laura Michina of The Hill certainly thinks that obesity is a key, though ignored, question to be addressed in the health reform discussion:

Politicians are struggling with ballooning Medicare and Medicaid budgets, and a looming national health care plan that we cannot afford. This challenge will only get more difficult unless we address the big elephant in the room that no politician wants to publicly address: the cost of obesity…

There are roughly 150 million adults in the U.S who are overweight or obese, a number that is projected to increase dramatically over the next decade. Statistics around childhood obesity are equally unsettling. The cost of obesity is staggering and is arguably a greater threat on America’s collective well-being than any terrorist or flu epidemic. In 2008, medical costs related to obesity were estimated at $147 billion – double what it was just ten years ago. If we continue to munch away carelessly, that figure will rise to $344 billion by 2018. What is even more disturbing is that these figures are significantly understated, as they do not include the millions of people who are overweight or mildly obese with preventable chronic diseases who would benefit from a healthier diet and greater activity. In the U.S. an estimated $1.8 trillion is spent per year in medical costs associated with chronic diseases.

…With 150 million adults at an unhealthy weight and 2012 now underway, we are at a critical juncture where straightforward, tough love talk and supportive policies are essential to end the obesity epidemic that has caused our budgets and waistlines to bulge.

However, striking a balance between personal choice and a government that encourages a healthy society is a daunting task, and one which few wish to undertake.

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