Increasing Waistlines and Health Care Costs

Increasing Waistlines and Health Care Costs

04.30.12 | By

Wow! That was what I said when I read the Reuters article about America's growing waistlines. It is truly troubling that incidents of extreme or "morbid" obesity has risen sixfold in the U.S. since 1960 and that medical spending due to obesity is now exceeding costs associated with smoking.

In fact, the burden of obesity on U.S. health care spending is astonishing - $190 billion, or 20.6 percent of all health care expenditures, is racked up each year due to increasing obesity rates. And many of these costs are being pushed on non-obese populations in terms of higher taxes to support Medicaid and higher health insurance premiums.

This should serve as a wake-up call that we must do more to prevent obesity rates from climbing to unsustainable levels.

At PhRMA, we often tout the benefits of prescription medicines to help patients battle disease but we also talk often about the importance of disease prevention. And, fortunately there are medicines and vaccines that can help prevent disease, including a vaccine for cervical cancer, which was once the number one cancer killer of women.

But as the former chairman of our board, Chris Viehbacher, CEO of Sanofi, once put it quite frankly, "it's a sorry state of affairs when a drug company executive has to stand up for prevention," and that to truly understand the real cost drivers in the U.S. health care system, we must take a close look at chronic diseases, including obesity.

He continued, "We cannot just simply talk about how we make health care affordable without looking at what the drivers are of cost. And today, three out of four dollars on health care are going to treat chronic diseases and many of those chronic diseases are preventable. And yet, if you ever ask a physician, they'll tell you there's no billing code for prevention."

I couldn't agree more with this very pointed statement because it frames up the incredible impact that chronic disease has on the state of our health care system and ultimately, the nation's economy.

Chronic disease, after all, is a top driver of health care spending, a leading cause of death in America and a key reason why decreasing worker productivity is causing our nation to lose billions of dollars annually - which undoubtedly impacts U.S. competitiveness with other nations around the world.

I guess what it all boils down to is if we really want to get serious about containing overall health care spending in the U.S. and remaining competitive as a nation, we need to have a laser beam focus on chronic disease prevention and treatment. If we don't, I believe our nation's debts will continue to mount and millions of patients will continue to suffer.

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