When it comes to our nation’s public health, there’s no question obesity is a formidable foe to be reckoned with.
Over the past decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity has become recognized as a national health threat and a major public health challenge. In 2007-2008, approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States were obese, which means they are also at increased risk for many serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death. In 2006, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at as much as $147 billion, with obese people paying $1,429 more than non-obese people for medical care.
genConnect has spoken with several high-profile weight and health-care experts on what can be done to make Americans healthier, and how those efforts can help the U.S. health care system. Here’s what they said:
David Kirchhoff @dkirchhoff - Kirchhoff is the CEO of Weight Watchers International, which in June 2011 was ranked by US News & World Report as the “Best Commercial Diet Plan” and the “Best Weight-Loss Diet.” In 2000, Kirchhoff was attending Weight Watchers meetings and following the program; the experience led to a 25-pound weight loss and a new outlook on food and exercise. Watch genConnect’s interview with Kirchhoff here.
“What we now recognize, and I think what the world is starting to recognize, is obesity is a much more significant health issue” than we previously thought, Kirchhoff said.
Obesity is among the top causes of cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, and other diseases. “It is one of the overall driving issues that is going to continue making our health care system more poroblematic, not less. We think its imminently solvable, but it’s not easy.”
Kirchhoff explained that changing the obesity tide requires engaging in the “messy business” of convincing more than 150 million Americans to “fundamentally change the way they live and start living in a healthier way.”
This will help the national economy, since currently, he said, 10 percent of all health care spending in the U.S. is directly driven from obesity. Just look at the problem of diabetes, along – caused, in part, by obesity. Eleven percent of all Americans are now diagnosed with diabetes – that’s double the numbers over the past 10 to 15 years. The CDC projects that number will triple to 1 in 3 Americans by the year 2050. “Diabetes today is a $180 billion-a-year condition,” Kirchhoff said, noting that it could easily become a half-a-trillion dollar condition in the coming years, let alone other associated diseases that can also be costly.
“We can’t afford living this way anymore,” he said, adding that the U.S. needs a systematic approach to combating obesity, which includes making sure doctors, insurance companies and other payers, the federal government, and others play an active role in encouraging more preventative, proactive care. “I view obesity as a health care issue, fundamentally,” but that includes Americans “basically rewiring the choices we make in a day-in, day-out basis.”
Leslie Dach @walmart- Dach serves as the Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Walmart, the nation and world’s largest grocer. Dach oversees Walmart’s company’s public policy, reputation management, corporate communications, philanthropy, government relations, social responsibility and sustainability initiatives, global security, aviation and travel departments. Watch genConnect’s interview with Dach here.
In January 2011, Walmart teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat obesity.
“We felt we had a role to play and we’ve pledged to work to make the food we sell healthier, and make healthy foods more affordable,” Dach said.
Those efforts include reformulating the supply of food sold in Walmart stores across the U.S. It has pledged to remove 25 percent of the sodium, 10 percent of the sugar, and all of the added transfat out of the food they sell across a variety of food categories. It’s also working to ensure their suppliers’ foods meet the same standards.
“We believe we have a special opportunity and a special responsibility as the world’s largest retailer to make a difference in the lives of our customers,” Dach said.
Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel - Former head of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health and a breast oncologist who has also served as a special advisor for health policy to the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. He served on President Clinton’s Health Care Task Force, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC), and on the bioethics panel of the Pan-American Healthcare Organization. Watch genConnect’s interview with Dr. Emanuel here.
The nation’s health care system is under fire, and the policy debate is taking center stage in Washington and across America these days.
“It’s connected with everything we’re discussing – the deficit, the national debt, getting business on track and lowering their health care costs, and obviously, keeping the American population healthy. So it’s a very pivotal issue,” Emanuel said.
But the issues plaguing our current health care system aren’t because we don’t have enough resources to provide quality care to those who need it.
“We have enough resources,” Emanuel said, noting that the U.S. spends $2.5 trillion on health care every year – the same amount as the entire gross domestic product of France. “It’s not a matter of ‘are we spending enough?’ It’s a matter of, ‘are we utilizing them wisely?’ And I think that’s the big issue and the big challenge.”
Emanuel said there’s a “huge amount of activity” going on among doctors, providers, and other medical-related groups as to how to provide better care for patients in a more efficient way. “I think it’s very exciting,” he said. “By the end of this decade, health care is going to be so much better.”
- For more daily expert updates, follow genConnect on Twitter and Facebook.
- To stay on top of genConnect’s latest posts, as well as the latest contributions from experts on the site: Sign Up for genConnect.