Walking through a crowded shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon it's easy to notice that most Americans are overweight or obese. This trend has been steadily growing for the last twenty years but has recently become an epidemic for American society. It's time to seriously address this issue from a clinical standpoint. Americans need to lose weight in order to live healthier lives and to avoid costly medical care down the road.
The statistics are frightening. Obesity is the fastest growing health concern in the United States. In America there are 58 million overweight individuals, 40 million obese and 3 million who are considered to be morbidly obese. Eight out of ten people over age 25 are overweight. It's also concerning that since 1990 there has been a 76% increase in Type II diabetes in adults. With medical costs rising for the average family, obesity is increasingly becoming a financial burden as well.
Most Americans understand that they enjoy the highest quality medical care in the world. That quality comes at a premium as insurance costs rise. Medical liability and malpractice insurance have been steadily rising for years and that cost is making its way to the average patient. There are several popular ideas in Washington D. C. and various state capitals around the country on how to solve the medical insurance problem. However, none of the options being discussed will be perfect if they ever pass into law. So there is only one thing we can do to ensure financial stability when it comes to health care. The key is to live healthier.
The economic implications for obesity are staggering. In all, obesity related diseases are costing Americans approximately $100 billion a year in medical care alone. To put that number in context, if this statistic remains at its current level then obesity will soon cost the American people more than the war on terror. In addition obesity kills more Americans each year than the war on terror does. Businesses are feeling the pinch as well. Overweight employees are responsible for 39 million lost work days per year and the monetary value of that lost productivity is difficult to calculate.
According to a study by Bank One Medical Director Wayne Burton, MD and his colleagues, overweight employees are costing self insured companies an additional $2,325 per employee per year in medical expenses. For every $100 spent in annual health care costs on a healthy-weight employee, employers spend almost 14% more on an overweight employee and almost 38% more on an obese employee. It was their conclusion that employers would actually benefit from helping employees to achieve a healthy weight.
To combat the increased cost many large self insured companies are now offering options for employees who are looking to lose weight. There are actually tax incentives that companies and employees alike qualify for if a medical weight loss program is offered. Employees may deduct the cost of weight loss programs on their income taxes if their medical expenses come to more than 7.5% of their annual income. A company may design its health plan to reimburse weight-loss program fees incurred to treat existing illness (such as obesity) when a physician has recommended weight loss to treat the illness. As with any benefit under a tax-qualified health plan, the company may deduct the cost of funding the benefit, and the employees do not count the benefit as income.
The battle of the bulge is straining an already overwhelmed medical care system. Obesity has been directly related to increased risks for Type II diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, gallbladder disease, hypertension, heart disease, and several forms of cancer. These diseases are destroying the quality of life for millions of Americans. Achieving a healthy weight is the best method for avoiding such complications.
It would seem that the medical community is perfectly positioned to assist in this undertaking. Physician monitored weight loss programs are appearing across the United States as doctors try to keep up with the needs of overweight patients. There are two general types of physician supervised weight loss. Medication based or all natural. Most programs are based on an older method which incorporates stimulants or human growth hormone injections. Based on recent studies, this is now considered to be a somewhat controversial approach. A person with a history of high blood pressure or an abnormal EKG would not be medically cleared for such a program.
The cutting edge medical programs such as Smart for Life's “Cookie Diet™" focus on a healthier path combining nutrition to lose weight and increased physical activity to keep it off. Hunger control comes in the form of their all natural patent pending cookies. The Smart for Life Weight Management Program has opened dozens of weight loss franchises in an effort to meet the growing demand for a natural alternative to invasive surgery or harsh medications. Each franchise is headed by a licensed medical doctor and staffed with medical assistants who are trained specifically for helping patients shed pounds in safely.
The difference with medical programs and traditional diets (think Atkins and the South Beach diet) is that the medical programs are supervised by a physician and traditional diets are do-it-yourself. The most difficult part of weight loss is motivation. Research shows that a person will be more likely to stay motivated if they trust their weight loss program is medically safe.
Primary care physicians also play an important role in the treatment of obesity. Until recently the only option for morbidly obese patients was gastric bypass surgery. In cases where patients were told they did not qualify for the surgery it must have seemed a death sentence. Physician monitored programs that focus on natural rapid weight loss provide a new alternative which is far safer than going under the knife. Hundreds of physicians are now referring their obese patients to medically supervised programs for that very reason When doctors work together in this way the patient will receive the highest level of care. It's imperative that more physicians begin recognizing obesity as a serious disease and in turn refer their patients to these specialized weight loss programs.
It's also time that more insurance companies recognize obesity as a disease and start covering treatments accordingly. Statistics show that it is actually cheaper to get people to a healthy weight than it is to treat obesity. Preventative medicine has a positive effect on the bottom line so it's only a matter of time before insurance companies become pro-active about weight loss. Recently, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina announced that it will begin covering treatment of obesity for more than 1 million of its members. That treatment can include up to four doctor visits a year specifically for assessing a patient's weight and to provide treatment if necessary. It also covers nutritional counseling sessions with dietitians to help people stay thin after they have achieved a healthy weight. This is a good first step in the right direction but more needs to be done on the part of insurance companies.
With childhood obesity rates rising faster than adult rates the next generation of Americans will have a tough battle ahead if we don't develop an effective weight loss mindset today. Fads and magic pills won't do the trick any longer. It's time for the medical community to introduce the science of weight loss to the American public. Long term quality of life and economic freedom may well depend on fighting obesity in the next few years.