Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The future costs of addressing obesity could account for 21% of all health care costs before the end of the decade.

More than 40% of all adults in Pennsylvania will be considered obese in 2018 if trends do not change.

That’s the result of a report that the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention put together as part of their November 2009 American Health Rankings study.

The report, based on research by Kenneth Thorpe of Emory University and the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, looks at what the rate and cost of obesity will be nationwide and in each of the 50 states in 2018 if trends stay the same.

If you’re frightened by the thought of more than 40% of all Pennsylvanians needing to lose a lot of weight to get healthier, think about Oklahoma, Mississippi, Maryland, Kentucky and South Dakota. The study predicts that all of these states will have adult obesity levels of more than 50%!

The report says that obesity is currently growing faster than any other health issue our nation has ever faced and that its rapid increase cuts across all socio-economic groups.

Here are some of the major findings of the report:
• If current trends continue, 103 million adults will be considered obese in 2018.

• If the current trend of rising obesity rates continues, the U.S. is expected to spend $344 billion a year in health care costs attributable to obesity in 2018, or more than 21% of all health care spending.

• If we could hold obesity levels to the current rates, we will have saved $820 per adult per year by 2018.

Here are the obesity numbers for the Keystone State, which use 2008 at the starting point. The study gives high, low and mid-point estimates, but I’ll just give the mid-way point: The prevalence of obesity in 2008 was 32.6% with an annual health care cost attributable to obesity per adult of $393.00. If current trends continue, the prevalnce of obesity in 2018 with be 41.8% with an annual cost of $1,455.00 per adult. If able to keep current rate of obesity, Pennsylvania will save $796 per adult annually.

It’s not going to be easy to keep obesity rates at their current levels, let alone lower them. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention describes our current society as “obesogenic,” which is a fancy way of saying that our society promotes the causes for most obesity: increased food intake, nonhealthful foods and physical inactivity. We see our “obesogenic” society every time we drive through a suburban business district and see rows and rows of fast food joints. We see it whenever we click on the TV and see all those ads for less than healthy foods. We see it when we read surveys of how much time children spend daily in front of the TV, game console or computer and how little time families spend on physical activity.

I’m therefore delighted that our first lady has decided to make fighting childhood obesity one of her major goals. At UnitedHealthcare, we also keep an eye on adult obesity. That’s why we are pushing a wide range of nutrition, fitness and other wellness programs and it’s why so many employers are including these programs as part of the coverage they offer employees.

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