This article from the Colorado Health Institute is quite an eye-opener. The state of Colorado spent $1,637,000,000 to treat medical issues directly related to obesity in 2009. And keep in mind that Colorado’s adult population is the slimmest in the nation – some states spent several times as much as Colorado on treating obesity-related health problems. Although the figures are eye-popping, we should also remember that although Colorado’s adult obesity ranking is at the top of the list, our obesity ranking for children is right in the middle (23rd in 2009) of the national comparison. Since we know – without significant intervention – overweight children are likely to become overweight adults, it’s reasonable to assume that Colorado’s ranking in terms of the percentage of adults who are overweight is probably going to fall in the coming years. And I would say it’s also reasonable to assume that the amount we’re spending on obesity-related healthcare is likely to climb as today’s children become tomorrow’s adults.
Several years ago I wrote about HHS and the Ad Council receiving criticism that their anti-obesity ads were “too soft”, especially when compared with other public health advertising like anti-tobacco ads. I think that the dichotomy remains when it comes to discussions about obesity: on the one hand, we see lots of articles and advice telling us to love our bodies at any size, and on the other hand we have studies like the one that illustrates the cost to public health insurance programs that is directly attributable to obesity.
In addition to asking people to take a more objective look at whether any of their health problems could be related to weight, Maybe lifestyle issues should be more of a priority during doctor visits. I believe that most doctors do at least mention in passing the importance of eating a healthy diet and being physically active, but perhaps they could spend more time on the issue, and make a bigger deal of it. The ad campaign featured in the CHI article indicates that people are poor judges of where they stand when it comes to their own weight. So instead of asking people to just figure it out on their own, maybe it should get more attention as a cornerstone of healthcare interactions between patients and their doctors. This makes particular sense when the patient is suffering from obesity-related diseases or showing precursor symptoms. And since money is a powerful incentive, HHS could provide doctors with information to distribute to patients regarding the additional lifetime healthcare costs one will incur as a result of being obese. As health insurance deductibles continue to climb and patients find themselves responsible for more and more of their healthcare costs, this could be an incentive to focus on a healthy diet and daily physical activity.