Obesity is depleting our nation’s pocketbook and devastating the health and wellness of millions
of Americans. Left unaddressed, the obesity epidemic will undermine our country’s health,
reduce our productivity and threaten our economic security.
Obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10 percent of medical spending in the United States,
or an estimated $147 billion a year, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reported last month. Half of that cost is financed through Medicare and Medicaid.
Obese people spend 40 percent more on health care — or $1,429 more per year — than people of
normal weight. Obesity also leads to greater risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol,
diabetes, heart disease and stroke. And it leads to a shortened life expectancy — on average, six
to seven years less. Clearly, obesity has an enormous economic and physical price.
Obesity is a complex problem that’s about more than just calories in and calories out.
Physiological, behavioral, social, environmental and economic circumstances all contribute. To
ease the burden, we need a multiphased approach that goes well beyond just eating less.
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SOLUTIONS: Eradicating America’s obesity epidemic
In fact, eating right and exercising isn’t easy — even for people with the resources. It’s
especially hard for members of hard-to-reach, high-risk populations. Studies show that access to
healthy foods like fruits and vegetables is limited to nonexistent in some areas of the country. In
these “healthy food vacuums,” individuals gravitate to cheaper, readily available foods with
limited nutritional value.
Obesity cannot be dismissed as it becomes apparent during youth and persists through adulthood.
About 25 million kids — nearly one in every three young people — are overweight or at risk of
becoming overweight. If current trends continue, today’s children could be the first generation to
live shorter lives than their parents. About 70 percent become overweight adults, leading to an
increase in cardiovascular disease, America’s No. 1 killer. If we do not fight obesity, we will fail
in our responsibility to make life better for future generations.
At home, turning off the TV, preparing nutritious meals for the whole family and engaging in
simple exercise are key initial steps. At school, we can do a lot as well.
Three years ago, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the American Heart Association’s
partnership with the William J. Clinton Foundation, made a commitment to cut the calories our
kids get in schools. By working with the food and beverage industry, we brokered landmark
agreements that led to improvements in snacks and beverages sold in schools. This included
reducing portion sizes, improving nutrient content and reducing the calories of beverages sold in
schools. Seventy-nine percent of U.S. schools have compliant contracts with bottlers that follow
the Alliance’s recommendations — showing that we have the means to give our kids healthier