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Scary numbers and mixed messages

overweightDo you ever get the feeling that reading the news and keeping up with new information can be a good thing (you stay informed, keep learning, work the brain muscles) yet the confusion caused by mixed messages can be a bad thing? Too much conflicting information can make you ignore everything. A number of recent items in the news provided both some scary numbers but some mixed messages that may make you discount the numbers. Hopefully, these mixed messages don’t dissuade us from addressing these societal health issues.

Example #1: One of our favorite annual reports was just released: “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2012.” This is an annual report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and it measures both America’s obesity problem by state, and estimates the future impact on preventable diseases and associated costs. It also has great state-by-state analysis and in-depth, peer reviewed analysis of associated health costs due to obesity.

Here are the scary numbers, projecting what the U.S. will look like by 2030 based on current trends:

  • 44% – Percent of Americans that will be obese – not overweight. Obese.
  • 60% – The percent of people in 13 states, mostly in the booming Southeast, that will be obese.
  • 20X – There will be 20 times more Type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, arthritis and high blood pressure cases.
  • $44 to $66 billion – Annual increase in health care costs due to increased rates of obesity.
  • $390 to $580 billion – The impact on U.S. productivity due to increased obesity.

The authors estimate that just a 5% reduction in the Body Mass Index would result in a 7.9% reduction in health costs (FYI – that means a 5’10” male that weighs 210 pounds – a BMI of 30) would need to lose 11 pounds and keep it off). In Massachusetts, that equates to over $14 billion in estimated savings. They recommend a mix of diet, nutrition and physical activity to address the issue.

Mixed Message #1:
A recently published study in the European Heart Journal that has gotten a lot of press found that 30% – 40% of obese individuals are actually metabolically/aerobically healthy, meaning their risk of heart disease and some other related, preventable diseases is the same as normal weight individuals. Granted, that means that 60% – 70% of obese people still are not healthy, but some people have been using this study as a way to justify their weight issue.

Example #2: 
Recently, a WGA client executive attended a conference hosted by Plus 1, in which the featured speaker was Dr. John Ratey, MD, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a researcher on the impact of exercise. His presentation was very interesting, and in his research, he has used MRI scans to show the positive impact of exercise on both humans and animals and the negative impact of obesity. His primary hypothesis is that even moderate exercise greatly improves mental health, sharpness and acuity while reducing stress and leading to longer lives.

Mixed Message #2:
A couple of recent pieces in the New York Times questioned the value of physical activity. Both, in one form or another, concluded that diet was the important thing – not exercise.

During the conference, Dr. Ratey spoke about the roles diet and exercise play on our overall mood and energy.  He noted the way his energy level seems to dip when he  hasn’t had time  for good workout in the morning or  has been eating bad, processed food.

Hopefully you agree with Dr. Ratey  that the combination of diet/nutrition and exercise is the vital mix of what America needs so that we avoid the dire predictions laid out in “F as in Fat”. None of us want that world.  Rather than finding excuses (or writers that support our bad habits), we need to face reality as a society and address the real issues in substantive ways.

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.

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