Obesity continues to loom large as a major concern in the US health care arena. Research shows obesity as responsible for almost 10 percent of direct medical costs in this country.
In fact, over 100,000 Americans die each year from complications associated with obesity. With the potential to shorten Americans’ life expectancy for the first time since the Civil War, it represents a true health catastrophe that people swept under the rug for far too long.
Obese individuals more likely to become injured
Not only does obesity increase the risk of illnesses, such as prostate cancer, diabetes, breast cancer, stroke, colon cancer, and heart disease; it increases the risk of injury and recovery time from injuries, occurring in car accidents, slips and falls, and others. Obese people are 73 percent more likely to have an accident, resulting in an injury requiring a hospital visit, according to a 2009 study conducted in Australia.
The study, conducted by Samsung Life Insurance Lifecare Institute, also indicates that fatigue-inducing sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and others, exacerbated by obesity, make obese adults more likely to have car accidents. Once injured, obese people spend longer in the hospital and have a higher incidence of complications, including death, than normal-weight individuals.
Obesity – almost impossible to treat
Once a person becomes obese, the condition is almost impossible to treat effectively. The key lies in prevention of obesity.
While numerous initiatives exist to stem the growth of serious diseases and conditions, such as heart disease and certain cancers, almost none exist that focus on truly preventing obesity. Congress has begun to implement things like junk food taxes and other initiatives, modeled after tobacco legislation that successfully decreased the number of American tobacco users. But these initiatives are problematic in that people don’t need tobacco to live. All people need food to live. Inexpensive, readily available food in urban areas has done much to decrease hunger and starvation among the poor.
Promotion of healthy lifestyles – a call to action for all
In addition to the typical community interventions of educating people about healthy food choices, making healthy foods available, promoting exercise, and breast feeding, private industry must get involved as well. Companies should implement health and wellness programs to prevent illness and promote healthy living as part of their benefits package. They should execute a plan to help those who already suffer from obesity, or are clinically overweight, take steps to change the habits and tendencies that led to their condition in the first place.
In the world of case management and legal nursing consulting, I see obesity and sedentary lifestyles effecting pre-operative workups, lack of ability to bounce back after a minor injury, increased degenerative changes and extended rehab/recovery timeframes. All of these factors affect us on multiple levels, not only as individuals, but as employers, insurance companies and as a country.
The more that can be done to promote wellness and healthy living will not only serve the individual, but also the employer and insurance company. Preventive health measures, while seemingly expensive on the front end, truly make a difference on the back end and concurrently during an illness or injury.
Rather than stigmatizing those who are overweight, all of those with knowledge and resources to help prevent disease and conditions, such as obesity, must use their talents and resources to make a real difference in the lives of others. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will improve your bottom line (no pun intended).
Photo credit: courtesy of loseweightfeelgreat dot com