A new report analyzing obesity trends warns that health care costs will increase alongside U.S. waistlines if current rates are left unchecked. It calls for mobilizing public health efforts and expanding funding to help adults and children become leaner.
Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia have the highest adult obesity rates, but projections of health trends for 2030 weren’t promising for other states either, according to “F as in Fat,” a report released on Tuesday by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
If the rates of obese and overweight children and adults continue on the current track, the authors said only the District of Columbia would have an obesity rate less than 40 percent by 2030. And the rising obesity levels will bring hefty health care bills to even those states that are relatively lean now for the treatment of weight-related illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension by 2030. For example, the report predicts New Jersey would see a possible 34.5 percent spike in spending during the time period.
If current trends hold, businesses also would face heavy price tags because of obese employees who have higher compensation claims and are more likely to be absent. The report projects a loss of economic productivity between $390 billion and $580 billion in two decades. The report called on obese individuals to cut their body mass index, or BMI, a metric that measures healthy body weight, by 5 percent in order to offset obesity-related illness and financial costs. For some people, this could mean a 10- to 15-pound weight loss.
“The disconnect is between information and action,” said Martin Binks, a clinical psychologist, researcher and head of Binks Behavioral Health, a North Carolina-based clinic that often works with obesity. He said a behavioral and cultural shift was needed to make an impact.
“Everyone knows what to do, but they don’t know why they aren’t doing it.”
Trends in obesity demographics and geography remained largely the same from the past decade, with states in the southeastern region and the Midwest faring the worst in national rankings. The trends were linked to the number of people who engaged in physical activity and ate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables in the state — with 36 percent of Mississippi adults reporting inactivity.
Among children, the risk of obesity was highest for African Americans and Hispanic populations. Among high school students, about 19 percent of black females, 18 percent of males and 19 percent of Hispanic males were obese and the numbers were similar for those who were overweight.
For lower-income families, the prevalence of obesity among children increased from 12.7 percent in 1999 to 14.4 percent in 2010.
“We have public health efforts, but it’s rarely targeted at the lower educated, the people who aren’t engaged in this conversation already,” said Binks, who was not associated with the report.
The report highlights legislation and both state and community-driven programming that has been effective in preventing illness and curbing costs. Twenty states had guidelines for their school nutrition plans that were stricter than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s overall suggestions but those federal provisions were strengthened in 2010.
The city of Philadelphia has been able to reduce its obesity rate in school-going children from 21.5 percent to 20.5 percent through community-wide programs such as the Food Trust, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve access to healthy food in the city. With a focus on better nutrition in schools, Philadelphia has also moved toward closing the race gap in access to healthy foods, proven by successfully lowering the average BMIs of African American males and Hispanic females.
States like California and Colorado are also leading the way in making streets safer for pedestrians and bikers to get more people engaged in physical activity.
“This study shows us two futures for America’s health,” Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Founcation, said in a statement released with the report.. “At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable.”