Exploding obesity rates linked to health care crisis

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July 20, 2011 by Tony Novak

The nation’s exploding rate of obesity has come under focus as the target of efforts to control our nation’s health costs. In 2006 only on state has an obesity rate over 30%. In 2011 there are ten states with this alarming rate of obese residents. This could be interpreted as a ten-fold explosion of a crisis-level situation. Obesity has been tied to a number of the most costly and disabling medical conditions and chronic treatment routines including diabetes, cognitive degeneration and heart disease. In earlier publications Freedom Benefits has also tied the effects of obesity to the inability to find health insurance. This issue  is not fully publicized because no large-scale study has examined the causal relationships between obesity, socio-economic status, lack of insurance and health initiatives at the individual level.

Since the 1960s, the association between medical costs and human-controlled behavior has been apparent. The commonly cited metric is that 80% of our total medical costs are directly impacted by five behaviors: overeating, lack of exercise, abuse of drugs and alcohol, lack of stress management and smoking. Recently the federal government published a study that revealed that more than half of the nation’s health care costs are attributable to the 15% least healthy members of the population.

A survey published by BenefitsPro titled “The ten fattest states in America” listed ten states with obesity problems now at crisis level. Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Arkansas and Michigan all have adult obesity rates of more than 30% of adults. Obesity rates for children are also growing at alarming rates. While only half of these states have a higher than average overall rate of uninsured residents, we suspect that the problem would be more severe among adult obese residents.

Employers have taken the leading role in addressing the obesity issue as more become aware of lost productivity. Employee benefit consultants and brokers have focused on delivering research-based management solutions to employers to enhance behavioral change. Large employers increasingly emphasize employee wellness programs and charge higher insurance rates to those who do not meet self-determined behavioral criteria goals. Freedom Benefits establishes similar programs for smaller firms.

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