When RiseVt recently reported the results of its second Body Mass Index [BMI] study it was noted that the results were roughly the same as the study done two years prior; a little over 40 percent of our first, third and fifth graders were overweight or obese. The good news was that the percentage didn’t increase. But what do the figures mean, what do they tell us about the health of these students, what do they tell us about the future of our health care system?

We’re starting to find out, and the information is terrifying.

In a December report published in The New England Journal of Medicine it’s estimated that by 2030 48.9 percent of the adult population will be obese and 25 percent of all adults will be morbidly obese. The authors examined the data collected from 6.2 million adults, producing results suggesting “high predictive accuracy.” The research concludes that the obesity rate will exceed 50 percent in 29 states and that no state will be under 35 percent. [Vermont’s overall obesity rate in 2030 is pegged at 43.6 percent with the rate of severe obesity at 20.7 percent. As a state we were in the top ten best states — all things being relative — but nowhere near the top three or four states.]

If RiseVt’s data is considered, the new research seems pretty spot on. In 2030, today’s fifth graders will just be creeping into adulthood. Typically, obesity rates climb along with age. The 48 percent rage is about right. [Remember, too, that today’s obesity rate is TRIPLE what it was in 1990.]

So the elastic in our waistbands stretches a bit more. That means what?

According to the Journal of Health Economics, obese men rack up an additional $1,152 a year in medical spending versus men not obese. Obese women cost an extra $3,613 a year. Among the uninsured, annual medical spending for someone obese was $3,271 a year compared with $512 for the non-obese. Together this adds an estimated $190 billion a year in costs, directly attributable to obesity.

But that’s not the complete story. Presently, 84 percent of the cost of our health care system relates to chronic diseases, the definition being diseases that are controllable. Obesity also has tangential effects, such as various types of cancer, etc.

These costs are the medical side of the equation. There is also the cost that relates to productivity in the work place. The more prevalent obesity is, the greater the absenteeism, etc. According to the Milken Institute, the cost of that loss of productivity totals a little over a trillion dollars a year.

What we have coming our way is an obesity tsunami that could, and almost certainly will, make an already unaffordable health care system far more so. It’s not something that can be solved within the health care establishment alone. This isn’t about more family practicians. It’s not about more surgeons, or nurses. It’s not about new drugs or the latest in technology. It’s a much wider battle; one that focuses on embracing healthy lifestyles, and changing our culture.

This is RiseVt’s cause, particularly in the work being done within our schools. It’s one of the core missions behind OneCare and the all-payer model that has its focus on prevention. Ten years is a moment away when it comes to changing behaviors. This needed to be addressed yesterday.

by Emerson Lynn

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