Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Obesity Dollars and Sense

It's swimsuit season -- that time of year when people assess the way the look with fewer clothes on -- and maybe, resolve to make some changes.

Whatever the motivator to shed fat/lose weight, statistics show there is surely a need for Americans to take a long look in the mirror. A recent USA Today front page article titled, "Obesity is a key link to soaring health tab" said that about 40% of adults -- more than 72 million -- were obese in 2006; up from 23% in 1994. And, 2/3 of everyone in the US is overweight or obese. I can almost hear the Europeans chuckling at us...

While many of us judge our bodies by how they look in a bathing suit at the beach, the article goes beyond skin deep. It reports that the cost of healthcare has doubled to $147 billion in a decade, and obesity accounts for almost 10% of that total.

Eric Finkelstein, a health economist says,

"If you really want to rein in healthcare dollars, you have to get people dieting, exercising and living a healthier lifestyle."

Alright, we get it. The message isn't new -- it's just that the statistics are getting worse and the unfortunate result is obesity is costing us more. People KNOW they are overweight and many want to drop some unhealthy fat and be more active, but it's harder than just shouting from the rooftops, "Eat less and move more!" If changing behavior were that easy, we wouldn't be in this predicament.

Here are a few tips for personal change that are less commonly known:

1. Call in a Substitute. Take one thing you consume every day (e.g., coffee creamer) and go from full fat to no fat. This little change done frequently adds up. Once you've made one small change, add another. Rinse and repeat.

2. Take 10: After dinner or anytime, go for a 5 minute walk (always consult your Doctor before beginning any exercise regimen). Five minutes in one direction, then turn around and head back. These 10 minutes -- most if not all days of the week -- will kick-start your activity program. Build from this foundation by increasing your frequency (how many times a week you walk) and duration (how long you walk). And check out a previous blog spot where I talk about how our dog Scout has helped my wife Wendy become a daily walker -- after work.

3. Tell a Friend: Ask someone you know to be your health coach. Encourage you to eat regular size portions -- and try and eat smaller meals 4-5 times a day, instead of 3 big ones. More frequent eating helps regulate your blood sugar, keeps you from getting hungry, and fires up your metabolism. Use that friend for support (e.g., an exercise buddy). By the way, my wife Wendy does this for an optimal health program called Take Shape for Life ( It works, people lose weight and keep it off, and I highly recommend it!

While personal responsibility is by far the main factor in weight management -- our communities can play a role -- positive or negative. From the USA Today article, here are 6 steps communities can take to help prevent obesity:

1. Put schools within easy walking distance of residential areas.
2. Improve access to outdoor recreational facilities.
4. Enhance traffic safety in areas where people could be physically active.
5. Enhance infrastructure supporting walking and biking.
6. Discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks.

So, if you haven't had that long, self-assessment look in the mirror yet this summer, maybe it's time. Ultimately, it's up to each of us to be in control of our own healthy lifestyle. If we don't, healthcare costs will take control of us.

-Paul Rosengard