Pounds mean money in U.S., too

July 18, 2005

WHY ARE health costs skyrocketing? There are many answers, most far beyond the average person's control. One is not.

Americans' increasing girth -- nearly one-third now are 30 or more pounds over their medically recommended weight -- translates directly into dollars at the doctors' office.

Nearly 12 percent of all private health care spending in 2002 was spent treating the effects of obesity, including high cholesterol, adult-onset diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders and counseling. In 1987, the share was 2 percent, according to a new, extensive survey reported in Health Affairs, an online journal of health policy and research.

Obesity costs already are built into private insurance premiums, but every U.S. taxpayer also is paying for this excess. About half the $75 billion in medical bills charged to overweight people in 2003 were covered by Medicare and Medicaid, according to a study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The prescription? Moderation, exercise -- and making sure the kids, especially, follow the lead. Habits formed in youth are easier to carry through adulthood, from the foods we choose to the number of times we take a walk rather than dozing in front of the TV. It's a familiar refrain, and luckily not an impossible task.

Boost the economy: Take a walk.

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