Childhood obesity has been in the news a lot lately - and it should be! It's a serious issue that if not addressed will have significant consequences in adding to the spiraling health care costs, shortened lifespans and additional economic burdens on governments, communities, businesses and citizens. Some have tried to estimate the economic impact, but the truth is no one really knows what the true cost of obesity and related health diseases will be to the United States or any other nation. The only thing for certain, is that the cost will be immense. We already know that the annual cost to our health care system for obesity and related diseases is approximately $123 billion - and that number is several years old. Since then, tens of millions of dollars have been spent by foundations, government agencies and private investors to research the cause, extent and prognosis for the "obesity epidemic." Quite frankly, I'm tired of reading the countless studies telling us that obesity is real and that we need to do something about it. I don't mean any disrespect to our esteemed researchers who have provided countless volumes of important data, but I think most Americans will agree that obesity is a real and serious threat to the health or our nation.
So what are we doing to prevent this growing epidemic? Sadly, not enough. I was stunned to read in a recent news article by George Will profiling Tommy Thompson (former US Secretary of Heath and Human Services and current republican presidential candidate) that the US government spends 93% of its health care budget treating disease and only 7% on prevention - and that's for ALL sickness. According to the article, Thompson claims: "In seven years, health care will devour $4 trillion annually, which will be 21 percent of the gross domestic product. It is, he argues, irrational to spend just 7 percent on prevention of sickness and 93 percent on treatment. Seventy-five percent of health spending goes to treat the 125 million Americans who have one or more chronic illnesses, such as Type 2 diabetes, which is related to the epidemic of obesity. In five years, or sooner, such diabetes may involve 62 million Americans and cost $400 billion. Sixty percent of these cases could, he says, be prevented by walking 30 minutes a day and losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight." Here's the link to the article. Those are powerful words from someone who knows the facts. If what Secretary Thompson claims is true, why is much of American (and the world) still not hearing the warning? The encouraging news is that some are listening and taking action, but much, much more must be done. Last month the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation received a lot of attention with their public commitment of $500 million to fund prevention related programs over the next five years. What programs are going to receive this funding and how effective they will be is yet to be determined, but give RWJ credit for taking an actionable stance against obesity. And kudos to our friends down under who last week announced their commitment to spend almost $900 million to tackle preventable illness and head off the linked epidemics of diabetes and obesity in their country.
There are others taking action as well, but sadly there are even more who want to talk the talk without having to walk the walk. It's going to take a herculean effort and a lot of "outside the box" thinking by innovative and creative people - along with some willing risk taking by the organizations and individuals with the funds. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open for such innovative and risk taking endeavors and sharing my thoughts on them in the weeks ahead. So check back often and don't hesitate to share your innovative program with me as well.
In good health,
LifeStyle Media Group
Highlighting innovative "outside the box" ideas, programs, research and products addressing the prevention and treatment of childhood obesity.