Prevention is usually a more desirable route than letting something bad happen and trying to deal with the aftermath. Unfortunately many of us aren't terribly good at it. From healthcare to global warming, we often tend to focus on treatment and seem to not focus on changing the likelihood that something will happen.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Trust for America's Health jointly study obesity in America. They recently released a report based on a new model of obesity growth in the US. Even if the model is inaccurate, and such models are rarely perfect, there are enormous savings in money as well as pain and suffering that could be made by becoming a less obese nation.
The analysis, which was commissioned by TFAH and RWJF and conducted by the National Heart Forum, is based on a peer-reviewed model published last year in The Lancet. Findings include:
Projected Increases in Adult Obesity Rates
If obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, by 2030, 13 states could have adult obesity rates above 60 percent, 39 states could have rates above 50 percent, and all 50 states could have rates above 44 percent.
By 2030, Mississippi could have the highest obesity rate at 66.7 percent, and Colorado could have the lowest rate for any state at 44.8 percent. According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates in 2011 ranged from a high of 34.9 percent in Mississippi to a low of 20.7 percent in Colorado.
Projected Increases in Disease Rates
If states’ obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension and arthritis could increase 10 times between 2010 and 2020—and double again by 2030.
Obesity could contribute to more than 6 million cases of type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 400,000 cases of cancer in the next two decades.
Currently, more than 25 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, 27 million have chronic heart disease, 68 million have hypertension and 50 million have arthritis. In addition, 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year, and approximately one in three deaths from cancer per year (approximately 190,650) are related to obesity, poor nutrition or physical inactivity.
Projected Increase in Costs for Health Care and Lost Productivity
By 2030, medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases are estimated to increase by $48 billion to $66 billion per year in the United States, and the loss in economic productivity could be between $390 billion and $580 billion annually by 2030. Although the medical cost of adult obesity in the United States is difficult to calculate, current estimates range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year.
Over the next 20 years, nine states also could see their obesity-related health care costs climb by more than 20 percent, with New Jersey on course to see the biggest increase at 34.5 percent. Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., could see increases between 15 percent and 20 percent.
How Reducing Adult Obesity Could Lower Disease Rates and Health Care Costs
The analysis also explored a scenario based on states successfully lowering adult obesity rates. It found that, if states could reduce the average body mass index (BMI) of residents by just 5 percent by 2030, every state could help thousands or millions of people avoid obesity-related diseases, while saving billions of dollars in health care costs. For a six-foot-tall person weighing 200 pounds, a 5 percent reduction in BMI would be the equivalent of losing roughly 10 pounds.
If BMIs were lowered, the number of Americans who could be spared from developing major obesity-related diseases could range from:
- Type 2 diabetes: 14,389 in Alaska to 796,430 in California;
- Coronary heart disease and stroke: 11,889 in Alaska to 656,970 in California;
- Hypertension: 10,826 in Alaska to 698,431 in California;
- Arthritis: 6,858 in Wyoming to 387,850 in California; and
- Obesity-related cancer: 809 in Alaska to 52,769 in California.
And nearly every state could save between 6.5 percent and 7.9 percent in health care costs. This could equate to savings ranging from $81.7 billion in California to $1.1 billion in Wyoming. Florida, the only state that would save less than 6.5 percent in health care costs, could save 2.1 percent or $34 billion.
“We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago,” said Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “This report outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference. Policy changes can help make healthier choices easier for Americans in their daily lives.”
Americans have become much heavier than they've been historically. Seats in airliners, cars, theaters, offices and homes have had to change to respond. Old safety designs require new testing and redesign as it is likely seat belts and airbags are no longer safe for many oversized Americans.. There is considerable debate as to how the rapid increase in weight happened starting about thirty years ago and it seems likely that it was complex. But it did take place and continues (it appeared the rate of increase was slowing in recent years, but it seems to have picked up again). Changing direction - even by a small amount - can have an enormous impact. Unfortunately there are market forces that fight change - sadly there is little national leadership - from either party...