Health Care’s Rising Cost vs Personal Responsibility

Many of us now realize that obesity is a leading risk factor for some of the nation’s most complicated and costly chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The human costs are staggering.

As the nation looks toward controlling health care costs, no workable agenda can ignore the pressing issue of combating obesity in America. After smoking, which causes an estimated 400,000 deaths annually, weight-related conditions are the second leading cause of death in the U.S., resulting in about 300,000 preventable deaths each year. A staggering 84% of health care claims are the direct result of poor lifestyle choices (e.g. smoking, diet, drug abuse).

What’s worse, dramatic new statistics show that obesity has increased at record levels over the past decade up from 25 percent of adults in 1980 to 34 percent today. As a result, an estimated 58 million adult Americans, or over a third of the adult population is dangerously overweight. This high incidence of obesity is particularly pronounced in minority populations, especially among women, and is rampant among low-income ethnic populations.

Obesity is also a serious health problem for the nation’s children as well. Since 1980 there has been a 42% increase in childhood obesity rates. One out of five teenagers are now considered significantly overweight. What makes this jump in childhood obesity especially worrisome is that extra weight in children is related to cardiovascular disease and the early onset of Type II diabetes.

Escalating rates of obesity are considered a major public health threat because they are directly linked to a number of disabling and life-threatening diseases. Medical researchers calculate that 88 to 97 percent of all cases of Type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, 57 to 70 percent of coronary heart disease cases, 11 percent of breast cancers, and 10 percent of colon cancers that are diagnosed in overweight Americans are attributable to obesity. Further, about a third of all cases of hypertension are thought to be due to obesity, while 70 percent of gallstone cases are attributable to being overweight. Unhealthy weight is associated with osteoarthritis and gout, along with a number of other disabling conditions.

For this reason, obesity is one of the most pervasive health risks affecting Americans today and is also a multibillion dollar drain on the U.S. economy.

Medical researchers, using prospective studies and national health statistics, place the cost of obesity at more than $100 billion annually. This includes $45.8 billion in direct costs, such as hospital care and physician services-or 6.8 percent of all health care costs. Further, obesity costs the economy $18.9 billion a year for such indirect costs as lost output caused by death and disability from weight-related diseases. The number of work days lost to illness attributable to obesity amounts to 53.6 million days per year. This lost productivity costs employers an additional $4.06 billion annually.

These costs, while staggering, can clearly be reduced over time if the country puts it resources behind a national mobilization promoting healthy weight and increased physical activity. Central to this effort is the need to change public perceptions of obesity from an appearance problem to a disease that can be prevented, treated and successfully managed.

There is no single bullet answer to our nation’s obesity problem however a concentrated exercise and healthy diet initiative enacted within our public education system would have a positive impact on our next generation and society as a whole.

Re-thinking the workspace is also necessary. The sedentary nature of employment is putting millions of American employees at risk. Our bodies were designed to remain in motion during the day, not sit at a desk. Treadmill desks offer a unique solution in this regard. Treadmill desks have shown significant success in allowing employees to restore their health, boost cognitive abilities, lose weight and increase productivity.

Treadmill desks combine the disease preventative benefits of walking while working and the potential reduction in the overall costs of medical care for corporations and small businesses alike.

Walking has also been shown clinically to prevent the onset of our nation’s leading diseases including Type 2 diabetes and some of the most virulent strains of cancer.  Consistent daily walking has been shown as an effective means of warding off disease, maintaining health and significantly decreasing the need for medical treatment, yet most Americans walk much less than the minimum recommended guidelines of 10,000 steps a day set by the Surgeon General. As a result we have an overweight population with all of the health concerns that accompany issues of obesity.

The National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC) reports that total spending on health care was $2.3 trillion last year, equivalent to $7600 per person. Health insurance premiums for a family of four sky rocketed to $12,100 during this same period and single coverage premiums averaged more than $4,400 annually.

One tactic to save on health care is to buy high deductible “catastrophic” health insurance which is significantly less expensive (as much as 50%-75% less) however this strategy must be combined with a commitment towards exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Americans are not doing too well in the commitment category. Most of us cite a lack of time and lack of motivation as the reason that only 10% of our population exercises sufficiently on a regular basis.

The good news is that exercise does not have to be overly strenuous. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that walking three times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes reduces the risk of mortality from disease by 57%. Excerpts of numerous medical studies illustrating the the positive impact of consistent daily walking in preventing numerous diseases can be found in our Reseach area of this site.

Unfortunately 2/3 of the American population is now categorized as overweight according to the CDC and less than 10% of the population is exercising on a regular basis. While Congress must focus on ridding our health care system of excessive administrative costs, fraud and mismanagement there must also be a call for personal action.

Prevention through a healthier lifestyle and exercise should play an integral role in our growing health care crisis but few politicians wish to risk the backlash of telling Americans they need to get out of their chairs and start moving.

Desperate for answers, some state governments are considering instituting a “carrot and stick approach” to medical insurance programs. Alabama recently enacted a $300.00 annual increase for health care premiums to state employees that do not meet minimum health requirements and are unwilling to join their state wellness plan. Other nations are instituting more stringent guidelines as well. Japan has implemented a national program fining corporations if their employees do not meet specific weight and waistline guidelines.

Rising health care costs and insurance premiums are taking the availability of health care out of the hands of millions and placing a tremendous burden on our economy according to the NCHC, accounting for approximately 16% of our current GDP and expected to rise to 20% of GDP in eight years.

With health care costs rising at 2-3 times the rate of inflation a proactive emphasis on prevention seems more critical now more than ever before. Treadmill desks offer  a solution which empowers employees to take control of their personal health and reduce their costs of medical care at the same time.

Hopefully, we can recognize the need to get employees out of their chairs and moving again with treadmill desks or other creative measures while there is still time.

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