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Obesity epidemic threatens to bankrupt the nation

The obesity epidemic in the U.S. will eventually bankrupt the nation if left unchecked, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, which held a webcast Tuesday to outline its recommendations for curbing the crisis.
In its report, “Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future,” the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, co-chaired by former U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Ann Veneman and former U.S. Secretaries of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and Mike Leavitt, calls on the public and private sectors to collaborate in creating healthy families, schools, workplaces and communities.

The report’s goal is to draw attention to the role obesity plays in the nation’s mounting healthcare spending, which is expected to reach $4.6 trillion dollars annually and consume 19.8 percent of the GDP by 2020, said Glickman.

“We Americans are a very overweight and unhealthy nation and as a nation we spend $2.6 trillion on healthcare (annually). Those costs are the primary driver of our nations’ debt,” said Glickman, adding that the current level of healthcare spending will “bankrupt our country.”

In addition to the high cost of healthcare, other issues the nation will face as the obesity epidemic worsens include lost workforce productivity and the armed forces’ inability to recruit and retain qualified military personnel, said Glickman.

The Bipartisan Policy Center is calling on legislators on both sides of the political aisle to get involved in the fight against obesity, he said. 

“Some issues are just too important to be partisan and this is clearly one of those issues. We must all take action to beat this threat,” said Glickman. “This is an issue that has cried out for simple solutions in every respect. It’s complicated, but it’s not so complicated that we can’t find ways to deal with it.”

“(This) report focuses on practical steps we can take in the real world,” he added.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) should extend federal guidelines for diet and physical activity to all children under six and enhance public awareness and understanding of these guidelines.
  • USDA should ensure that all its nutrition assistance programs reflect and support federal dietary guidelines.
  • All key institutions, including hospitals, workplaces, communities, government and insurance providers, should support and promote breastfeeding with the goal of substantially increasing U.S. breastfeeding rates for the first six months of an infant’s life.
  • Schools should improve nutrition and physical activity offerings, in partnership with the private sector.
  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in partnership with private companies, should develop a database of exemplary workplace wellness programs with a rigorous cost/benefit analysis to help scale up existing best practices in both the private sector and within government.
  • The Ad Council or similar organizations should coordinate a multi-media campaign to promote healthy diet and physical activity, funded by leading private sector companies in collaboration with federal agencies.
  • Food retailers should adopt in-store marketing and product placement strategies to promote the purchase of healthier, lower calorie products.
  • CDC and HHS should continue robust efforts to collect and disseminate information on food, physical activity and health – including information on the social determinants of health and future costs – and Congress should continue to support these monitoring and information-gathering functions.