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Cost of obesity skyrockets

A study says obesity-related health issues account for 9.1 percent of all medical bills.

  • Nina Panganiban, 9, throws her arms into the air during a hula-hoop contest at the Get Moviní kickoff at the Marysville YMCA last month.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Nina Panganiban, 9, throws her arms into the air during a hula-hoop contest at the Get Moviní kickoff at the Marysville YMCA last month.

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  • Nina Panganiban, 9, throws her arms into the air during a hula-hoop contest at the Get Moviní kickoff at the Marysville YMCA last month.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Nina Panganiban, 9, throws her arms into the air during a hula-hoop contest at the Get Moviní kickoff at the Marysville YMCA last month.

It’s not just a personal matter of having a fatty spare tire around your tummy.
The increasing number of kids and adults who are overweight and out of shape is costing everybody big bucks — as much as $147 billion a year, researchers say.
Obesity-related health problems accounted for 9.1 percent of all medical bills in 2006, up from 6.5 percent in 1998, according to a study published in Health Affairs, a medical journal.
Researchers found “an undeniable link” between rising obesity rates and increases in medical spending to battle related health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
The study, which provides a national estimate of the cost of obesity-related illnesses, “really does help us understand the magnitude of this problem in a different way — hopefully to take it more seriously,” said Dr. Jim Troutman, a pediatrician at The Everett Clinic. The study did not break down costs at the local level.
Troutman said that about once a day he sees a child who is seriously obese.
Yet health insurance plans typically don’t pay for Troutman to consult with the family on steps to take to avoid problems caused by obesity, such as diabetes.
“They don’t want to spend $150 for that office visit but they’re willing to pay thousands of dollars a month for diabetic supplies,” Troutman said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Health insurance plans also don’t typically pay for consultations with dieticians, so patients can make better choices on what they eat and how much they eat, said Dr. Stephen Dahlbert, a family physician at The Everett Clinic.
The fact that Medicare is now paying for often- expensive drugs to attack problems such as high cholesterol and diabetes is another cause for the rising costs associated with obesity, said Paul Fishman, an economist at Group Health’s Center for Health Studies.
People also are bombarded with ads for fast food, said Evette Ludman, a senior research associate at the Center for Health Studies.
“It’s very hard to compete with 79-cent tacos and 99-cent cheeseburgers,” she said. “We’re stressed, tired and spend a lot of time in our cars.”
People become discouraged when they try to make too big a lifestyle change too quickly, Ludman said.
“Most people think they have to starve themselves or run marathons,” Ludman said.
Small steps matter, she said. For example, by simply eating one less cookie a day, they people can lose 10 pounds in a year.
It’s important to take steps to try to prevent obesity and promote nutrition and physical activity while children are still young, said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.
Obesity, lack of physical activity and poor nutrition are a leading underlying cause of death, second only to smoking, he said.
Over the past several years, parks departments, schools and other community organizations have launched efforts to increase physical activity and encourage healthy eating habits, he said, such as Healthy Communities and Get Movin’.
Goldbaum said he hoped that over the next year, businesses, government agencies and communities groups can work together to do even more to contribute to healthier communities.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, salyer@heraldnet.com.
Preventing obesity
Here are some recommendations from federal health officials on how to prevent obesity:
  • Increase the availability of healthy foods in child care centers, parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities.
    Increase the number of stores providing fruits and vegetables in low-income, minority and rural communities.
    Increase physical education requirements in schools.
    Encourage breast feeding, which puts children at lower risk of obesity.
    Limit sedentary activities, such as TV watching and increase opportunities for physical activity.
    Improve access to recreational facilities.
    Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Story tags » EverettMarysvilleSnohomish Health District

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