Monday, May 22, 2006

The Best Prescription...

Lately I’ve been bothered by the fact that 65% of Americans are overweight or obese. I understand that weight is a very personal issue, but the reason this issue has probably been on my mind is also a personal one--the rising cost of health care. My newest health care “insurance” has a deductible of $2000. No co-pays. No nothing until I spend $2000 out of pocket. So when I had to have a minor procedure done in February I paid $650. That is, of course, difficult to budget for, and I cannot imagine how hard it must be for the secretaries I work with, especially the ones who have to reach a family deductible of $4000 before our “insurance” pays a penny. I've seen the numbers, and my employer isn't just being stingy. Our premiums, which my employer pays, increased 63% in one year.

I’m sure this figure can be debated, but I recently read that obesity has attributed to more than 27% of the increase in health care costs from 1987 to 2001. The average obese patient incurs 37% more expenses than a non-obese patient. That’s not difficult to believe since the number of people with Type II diabetes is increasing at alarming rates. Not to mention the many other health ailments come hand in hand with being overweight.

Insofar as adults are concerned, what’s going on? Why do people think they can eat whatever they want? Where did anyone get the notion that eating fast food every day was a good idea (you wouldn’t believe how many Americans eat fast food multiple times a week)? Or that you could eat Mexican for lunch, Burger King for dinner, and not gain weight? Don’t get me wrong—I do not profess to eat a perfect diet by anyone’s imagination. In fact, I’m constantly struggling to add vegetables and fruit into my diet and figure out when to fit in a workout. But if I gain some weight (like the 15 pounds I gained while living in Spain), I cut back and exercise more. And granted, our culture makes it more difficult than not to eat the way we know we should.

Perhaps I have the wrong view of this, but it seems like Americans are just completely abdicating personal responsibility. People want to blame industries rather than themselves. It’s not McDonalds fault. And it’s no one’s fault but our own when we take the elevator rather than the stairs. Or drive through a parking lot three times in an effort to get a spot just a little closer to the store entrance. Or order dessert or appetizer when we know we shouldn’t. Or choose to watch American Idol instead of going for a walk. And now we’re paying the price. What is it going to take for Americans to wake up and see the crisis? I’m not talking about having perfect bodies; I’m talking about the very real health concerns of a nation with 65% of its population being overweight or obese.

The most disturbing part of this epidemic is the effect on children. I only recently realized this, but my little in the Big Brother Big Sister program only has physical education class once a week. She’s in fourth grade; she’s also already struggling mightily with her weight. I also recently learned that soft drinks are sold during school hours at many schools. And my niece who is in kindergarten has the option of buying ice cream several days a week. Nachos are offered as an entrée is school cafeterias, and when I was in school we could choose to have pizza every single day. And accordingly, obesity in children has tripled in the last three decades. We are setting our nation’s youth up to have horrible habits and face very real health concerns at increasingly young ages. That’s reprehensible.

Why do you guys think this is? Why do you think despite our the health consequences and costs not to mention our culture’s enormous (and unhealthy) focus on appearance doesn’t spur Americans to eat less and exercise more? Is it a bigger problem than that? Is it just because we want to do what we want (whether it’s eating, having sex, driving drunk, etc.) and pretend there aren’t any consequences? Is our country just less disciplined as a whole than other nations? I know that we eat more processed and fast food, which makes it hard to maintain a healthy weight. The diet and exercise industry is a million, if not billion, dollar industry, so Americans are at least giving it a half-hearted try, but are we just not willing to go without everything that we want in the moment?

I wish that all Americans would give exercising just a one month trial-offer try--five days a week for forty minutes. If people would stick with it, imagine the amazing difference we would see. It’s the best prescription. Studies show that regular exercise often has the same benefits as an anti-depressant. It can prevent diabetes and other weight-related ailments. Employees who exercise regularly miss less work and are more productive. And I think people who exercise feel better about themselves. I wish it were as easy as taking a pill so that everyone would try it--if nothing else just so my health care cost wouldn’t be so insane.


spam_price said...

As a member of that 65% - this is something that I think about a lot myself. Fortunately for me, despite my obesity I have not suffered from any health concerns that are out of the ordinary. That being said, I don’t fool myself into thinking that will always be the case. With a family history of heart disease, high blood pleasure and diabetes I should be especially more concerned about this than what my diet would obviously show itself to be.

You are absolutely right that exercise and healthier eating would go along way to helping ease many of the economic and health burdens our society faces. So what’s my excuse for not being a part of the solution?? There are only 24 hours in a day and I don’t give those health concerns a high enough priority because I’m young and stupid and think I’m invincible. I recognize my short comings there and fail to act on them. My life is busy and food is a comfort to me at times. I make excuses constantly for not exercising then or for eating that now. I honestly don’t know what the answer is.

Ally said...

One of the answers seems obvious to me--as a country, we need to make preventive health a major priority and the most obvious place to start is with children. Under no circumstance should nachos be served as an entree or dessert and soda be included with lunch every day. And physical education classes should be every day even if it's just 30 minutes (only one state currently has it every day). The more of a routine eating right and exercising is, the easier it is and the less of a chore it is. Plus we're fighting a battle--not that I think it's McDonald's fault that we're overweight, but other than Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald is the most recognizable fiction character to children.

Jeff, as someone who sometimes falls out of the exercising habit herself, I know how hard it can be to get motivated to pick it back up. It does take up time and can feel very inconvenient. When I most recently started exercising again, I'd just do it for twenty minutes. And I'd often just walk. Eventually I got to where I actually wanted to do it, and I miss it sometimes on the days I don't make time for it.

I don't know if you're competitive, but a friendly wager sometimes helps too--like the time Donatello and I had a competition to see who could workout the most mornings (before work)in a month. You can guess who won.

Anonymous said...

Dear Groundhog, Im a fat ol cow. What advice can you give to turn me into a lean donkey?

Aaron said...

I responded to my Dad's heart attack years back by changing my dietary and exercise habits. I was by no means in poor health. I was quite healthy and had healthy habits...

A more appropriate statement would be to say this is when I crossed the line between "healthy" and "health nut". I've been eating healthy for years. I've been working out regularly for nearly as long. Nearly the last two years have included a personal trainer. It's not for everybody, but I'll be damned before I experience a heart attack after witnessing my family go through it.

Most school systems do a good job of informing students of healthy options for eating. However, these habits are not inforced in the school cafeteria. I suspect there is a large set of "political" issues that cause this to happen.