TIME TO GET SMART ABOUT A WEIGHTY PROBLEM

It was hard to get on the front page with important news during the last two weeks of June.  The Confederate flag controversy, the hunt across several states for two prison escapees and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, fair housing and Obamacare dominated all things media.  I’m sure you missed it, but UCLA released an important study during that time as well. It seems that we Americans are just getting fatter and fatter.  According to the study, during the first decade of the 21st century, the number of adult Californians who are obese –not just overweight– but obese, grew from one-in-five to one-in-four. This circumstance is even worse nationally, with 28 percent of U.S. adult residents now being obese.

As a reminder, adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or greater are considered overweight; those with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.  And obesity is the cause of many serious chronic diseases and fatal conditions; e.g., heart attacks, strokes, cancer, diabetes and more.

The impact of obesity on population health is bad enough, but the cost to consumers and our nation’s economy is even worse.  At the current rate of inflation, the percentage of our gross domestic product (GDP) spent on health care is expected to rise from about 17.4 today to 25 by 2025.  This unhealthy expansion to our beltlines will guarantee the achievement of this unhealthy expansion to our GDP.

Here is how the math works.  Obesity increases the incidence and prevalence of chronic diseases.  Every one percent increase in the incidence of chronic disease drives a six percent increase in the consumption –and cost– of medical services.

Moreover, the population between ages 15-64 with three or more chronic conditions accounts for half of all medical expenditures for that age cohort.  For seniors on Medicare, the 15 percent with three or more chronic conditions drive a full 75 percent of all Medicare program spending.

To be sure, we went from one-in-five to one-in-four adults achieving obesity status during the first decade of this century.  How about 1-in-3 by the end of this decade?  How would that work?

Here is my proposal for addressing this weighty problem.  All health plans or employers should give a body monitor (e.g., Fitbit, Withings, Nike, etc.) to each insured adult with a BMI over 25; that is, a monitor with a cloud connection to record all daily physical activity.  Those who fail to meet certain activity or BMI reduction targets should be required to pay a larger share of their health insurance premium costs.  This is the agreementI have with my health plan, and it does motivate me to watch what I eat and move more. I’m cranky as hell, but I am dropping unhealthy fat!  What will you do to lose your excess pounds?