Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We have to start with our children if we want to lower the rate of obesity in the Keystone State.

Obesity is tipping the scales as one of Pennsylvania’s biggest health challenges. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of the state population that is obese has increased from 12.5 percent to 28.3 percent.

That’s an alarming trend, and it’s playing out in communities across the Commonwealth. According to the 20th Annual America’s Health Rankings™ released recently, if current trends continue, nearly 41.8 percent of Pennsylvanians will be obese within the next decade, costing our state a projected 13.5 billion – or $1,455+ per adult – for state health care spending. Most of that spending comes from obesity-related health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

We have to do more in Pennsylvania to reduce the prevalence of obesity in our communities, especially for our youth, among whom the rates of obesity have more than doubled in the last three decades.

Overweight adolescents have a 70-percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults and are far more likely to face risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. Experts increasingly agree we must intervene early in life, if we are to reverse the trend in obesity rates in our country.

Research has shown that young people who participate in service-learning programs improve their academic performance and critical-thinking skills, increase their confidence and sense of potential, and accept leadership roles. Such programs are a crucial part of the solution to the serious dangers posed by our growing waistlines. That’s why we started our UnitedHealth HEROES grant program, which helps young people, working through educators and youth leaders, to create and implement local hands-on programs to address the issue of childhood obesity. As I detailed in a blog a few months back, many HEROES grants have been awarded to organizations across Pennsylvania.

We should commend the young people in our area who are already making a difference and join them in taking action on this important issue. Our physical health as a community, and our fiscal health as a nation, depends on it.

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