Why our obesity problem should worry you
As a society, Americans obsess about weight. The diet “industry” is a multi-billion enterprise. “The Biggest Loser” and otehr weight-loss reality shows are ratings hits. Many of us are aware that we need to lose some weight. Yet two recent studies — “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future” and a poll conducted by Life Goes Strong — show we continue to put on weight, with the Baby Boomers being the worst offenders.
Obesity and weight related issues are intrinsically related in the battle to control health costs. It’s really a simple equation: caloric intake + lack of physical activity = weight gain.
The statistics are voluminous, hard to dispute and alarming, all at the same time. Here are just a few:
- As much as 40% of health insurance and 52% of disability costs are linked to weight issues.
- Workers Compensation claims are 2.5 times more costly for the obese than for those who are at an appropriate weight.
- 34.4% of the adult population of Mississippi is obese (the worst in the country). In 1995 – just 16 years ago – Mississippi had the same obesity rate as Colorado, the healthiest state in the US, does today – just over 19%.
- Surveys started to show a leveling off in the mid-2000’s, but the numbers are going up again.
- The percentage of adults that get even moderate exercise on a weekly basis has been unchanged since the 1980’s when the first studies were done, with 61.3% of adults getting no exercise.
I could go on and on with surveys, studies and statistics. But instead, here is a favorite test of mine. We’re in Boston, and I’m a big Red Sox fan. Here is a picture from Fenway Park in 1951. How many overweight people do you see – not obese, just overweight?
Here is a picture today. How about now?
The long and the short of it is, Americans weigh too much, and it’s costing employers in higher health insurance costs, sick leave, disability expense and workers compensation losses. All of this adds up to reduced productivity.
The next question is, “How can we control our health insurance costs in the long run?” We all know brokers, consultants and clients who tweak plan designs or try simple wellness programs. That is just scratching the surface. In the long run, employers must use every weapon in their arsenal to change behaviors and get people healthier: plan designs, contributions, incentives (and penalties), senior management directives, third-party programs, services and tools and persistent, constant efforts over many years. We have been talking about this with clients since the early-90’s, but only in recent years have we begun to see see employers making the investment and taking the effort to change behaviors. It’s encouraging, but we have a lot of work to do.
William Gallagher Associates is a leading provider of insurance brokerage, risk management and employee benefits services to firms with complex risks and dynamic needs, within industries that include technology, life sciences, financial risks, health care, renewable energy & clean technology, and environmental services. WGA has offices in Boston, MA; New York, NY; Hartford, CT; Princeton, NJ; Columbia, MD; and Atlanta, GA.