Health Leaders Comment
By John McDougall, M.D., for HealthLeaders News, Jan. 23, 2003
Nearly two-thirds of residents of United States are overweight, and since 1991 the incidence of obesity has risen from 12 percent to more than 25 percent. Obesity-related diseases, like type II diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, and cancer are consuming most of our healthcare dollars. Spending on hospital and outpatient care is 36 percent higher and medication costs are 77 percent higher for obese people than for people in the normal weight range.
Obesity has the same impact on chronic health conditions as does 20 years of aging; which exceeds the impact of smoking or problem drinking. Presently, each year, 300,000 deaths are attributed to obesity, and this epidemic costs our country $118 billion.
Try to imagine what will happen to healthcare expenditures over the next three to five years when many of those who are now simply overweight become diabetic? And in five to 10 more years when these diabetics develop kidney failure necessitating dialysis, and coronary artery disease requiring acute hospitalizations and heart surgery? Over the next five or ten years, costs will skyrocket to the point at which no one will be able to afford health insurance under the present model. Can we stop what appears to be an inevitable rise to "unaffordable healthcare for everyone?"
I believe the answer is yes - but not unless we change our focus of effort. Higher premiums, fewer benefits, lower physician reimbursements, more doctors, drugs, and hospitals have not been, and never will be, the answers.
The only effective and permanent solution to our healthcare crisis is to reduce the commodity: sick people.