The Weight of the Nation

From Huffington Post:


Written in collaboration with Elena Hoffnagle

Last week, obesity took center stage in Washington, D.C. with the conference “The Weight of the Nation,” sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that convened researchers, advocates and clinicians to tackle the epidemic facing our country today. Tonight, HBO will air a documentary on this issue. While obesity rates have increased dramatically over the past 30 years and solutions to address the issue have been slow to show impact, we are at a critical turning point for combatting this major public health problem in our country today. Currently, we know more than ever about the most successful strategies to help Americans live healthier lives, reduce obesity rates, and decrease medical costs. Now it is time to take the actions needed to tip the scales on obesity using innovative “health in all policies” approaches.

In the U.S., two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. For the first time in the history of our nation, there are more obese people than overweight ones, and it is estimated that unless we can reverse this alarming trend, by 2030 42 percent of the U.S. population will be obese. Obesity increases the risk for many chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some types of cancer, gout, and sleep apnea. Due to the rise in obesity rates and the resulting health-damaging effects, the current generation of American children may be the first not to live as long or be as healthy as their parents. For Latino and African-American children, the predictions are especially grim — 50 percent of these youth are expected to develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.

Obesity is not only a problem that undermines the nation’s health, but it is also an economic and national security threat. These obesity-related diseases account for an estimated $190 billion in yearly medical expenditures, 21 percent of all medical spending in America today, and drive up the cost of medical care for everyone, even those not directly affected by the problem. Some experts believe that the health care costs of obesity have surpassed the health spending resulting from tobacco use. Currently, 27 percent of our nation’s young adults, ages 18-24, are ineligible to enroll in the military because of their weight. There are also indirect costs of obesity, including the value of income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity and absenteeism — accounting for an estimated $450 billion annually.

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