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Obesity epidemic threatens to bankrupt the nation

Bipartisan effort needed to curb crisis

WASHINGTON  -  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 June 5 to outline its recommendations for curbing the crisis.

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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.

According to the report, if the U.S. succeeds in stabilizing obesity rates at 2010 levels, the nation would save nearly $550 billion over the next two decades.

"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.

One key area of focus in the report is on creating new dietary guidelines for pregnant women and children up to age two. The recommendations also place a renewed emphasis on breastfeeding and called on hospitals, workplaces, communities, government and insurance providers to support and promote breastfeeding with the goal of substantially increasing U.S. breastfeeding rates for the first six months of an infant's life.

"Improving health outcomes early in life is a critical element in helping to shift our current healthcare system toward prevention," said Veneman at the event. "The health and well being of our children today will determine the health and well being of our country tomorrow."

The report also implores healthcare providers to play a bigger role in the fight against obesity.
"Doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals are uniquely positioned to inform and motivate Americans on the importance of good nutrition and physical activity," said Shalala. "We recommend that all forms of medical education incorporate nutrition and physical activity training as part of the curriculum."

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