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Does Normalizing Obesity Do More Harm Than Good?

It is estimated that 44% of Americans will be obese by the year 2030. The AMA warns that increasing obesity rates will lead “to millions of additional cases of type 2 diabetes, stroke and coronary heart disease, as well as arthritis and hypertension. Billions of dollars will be wasted through lost economic productivity and skyrocketing medical costs.”

And yet, a funny thing is happening in consumer land – efforts to normalize obesity are gaining momentum via social media platforms. Take the “beauty comes in all sizes” ad for example. This was shared with me by an old grade school friend on Facebook. And while I can appreciate the sentiment that women of various genetic predispositions are beautiful, I stopped short at the idea that obesity itself was attractive. There is a growing movement among obese men and women to promote acceptance of their size, and if they win this argument they could substantially undermine efforts to help Americans become healthy and avoid disease. I know this sounds harsh, but to me, promoting beauty of all sizes – when that includes obesity- is tantamount to promoting a “smoking is cool” campaign.

Smoking rates in the United States have dropped from 42.4% in 1965 to 19% in 2010. Although one-in-five people still smoke, we have successfully reduced the smoking burden by more than half. The reasons for this reduction are complex, but they include public awareness campaigns regarding the harmfulness of cigarette smoking, increasing taxes on cigarettes, and public policy regarding where and when people can smoke in public.

The same exact approach can’t work for obesity because while people can simply quit smoking, we can’t quit eating. And what we eat is less important than how much we eat. I personally do not favor “fat taxes” on specific food items because almost any food could cause weight gain if consumed in large enough quantities. I also don’t favor singling out obese people for portion reduction at restaurants (this has actually been proposed), or other policies that are similar to what we’ve done with smoking in public spaces. Promoting prejudice against the obese is not constructive.

So that leaves us with public perception/education and peer pressure as our primary national strategy for reducing obesity rates.  (Of course smaller initiatives can help: employers can incentivize weight loss and wellness, policy makers can encourage new housing developments that promote active lifestyles, and local groups and non-profits can promote fitness initiatives and healthy eating behaviors.)

My concern is that if too many people decide that normalizing obesity is better than fighting it, America will lose this battle. Obesity-related disease is already costing us about twice as much as smoking-related illnesses. And both smoking and obesity are nearly 100% avoidable.

Obesity is not beautiful, and we must redouble our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the public on this subject without resorting to the other extreme (idolizing anorexia). Good health lies somewhere in the middle – and keeping our middles within a reasonable range is the most important health goal we have.

A Father’s 5-Point Plan for Investing in Your Health

As fathers, one of our most important responsibilities is to be there for our children. Work and travel schedules may make it difficult to be home every night for dinner or to catch every baseball game or music performance, but taking action on a few simple things can help us invest in our health today to ensure we are around to support and guide our children as they grow.

As the survivor of a health scare a few years ago, I have made a personal commitment to a simple, five-point plan for health – and I encourage others to do the same. Here’s the plan I follow that can also help you invest in your future:

1. Know your numbers – Cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar. The key to good health is understanding first where you stand, and what you need to improve. For me, I love to cook so it’s about reducing the amount of salt and sugar I use to keep my numbers in check.

2. Know your history – Just as important as the lifestyle you lead is what you’ve inherited from your family. Knowing what you face genetically can go a long way in ensuring your current and future health. Share your family history with your physician who can help develop a customized health care plan that allows you to monitor and track against illnesses for which you might be disproportionately at risk due to what you’ve inherited.

3. Make balanced choices in your diet – Healthy eating isn’t about denying yourself every food you enjoy. As my doctor likes to say, you don’t have to give up everything. You never will be successful. But you do have to discipline yourself, and that’s something I have been working on as I try to manage my own weight. It’s not about going on a diet, which is based on denial, but about making responsible decisions that let you enjoy the foods and drinks you love, but in moderation. It’s tempting to eat steak and burgers – but research continues to caution against eating too much red meat. Instead of reaching for the chips, eat celery or carrot sticks instead. And instead of grabbing that cookie, reach for a peach or an apple to satisfy your sweet tooth.

4. Get moving! Get active – Most of us sit behind desks – or in traffic – for a good part of the day, so I can’t emphasize this point often enough. Physicians usually recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week. You don’t have to be an athlete to get active – just walk, walk, walk! As president of a large, national health care organization, I log many miles traveling to our various sites. During my time on the road, I often take a personal walking tour of the many cities I visit. Walking doesn’t take fancy equipment and you don’t need to dress up or drive somewhere to do it. All you need is a sturdy pair of walking shoes, and many hotels provide maps for walking. You can even log miles and track your progress with walking partners at www.everybodywalk.com.

5. Have a good relationship with your physician. I respect – and also really like my doctor. She is more than a physician; she is a great coach. You should have the type of relationship with your physician where you feel he or she is on your team. If you don’t feel comfortable with your physician or don’t think of her or him as a partner in your life plan for health, then it’s time to find a doctor who can support your path to total health.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 80 percent of premature deaths in the U.S. are caused by four preventable behaviors: lack of physical activity, poor diet, alcohol use and smoking. The five steps I’m sharing with you are simple behavioral changes that won’t take up a lot of time, and will pay off in dividends in 10, 20, even 30 years down the road. Making time to invest in your health is a commitment well worth making and every effort you contribute starting today, will pay significant dividends for years to come.

Bernard J. Tyson is president and chief operating officer of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan, Inc.

Majority Of California Children’s Hospitals Found To Offer Unhealthy Meals

A study published in the journal Academic Pediatrics reveals that 93% of California children’s hospitals offered unhealthy food to outpatients, visitors and staff in the cafeteria and snack bars.  Said another way, only 7% offered healthy food.  What did these foods consist of to be called “unhealthy”?  Try fried food, sweetened beverages, burgers and lots of sugary sweets.

The study found that 81% of the cafeterias placed high-calorie, high-sugar items like ice cream right by the cash register, a well known marketing plan to tantalize and increase selection.  Forty four percent didn’t even offer low calorie salad dressing and fewer than 1/3 had no nutrition information.

Health care workers, like the rest of America, suffer from increasing obesity.  One study showed over 54% of Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Healthcare Economics: Employers Incentivize Healthy Lifestyles With Penalties And Rewards

How do companies curb health care costs?

Do healthier employees lead to increased productivity?  Several progressive companies believe so and have committed to providing employees with programs to help engage them in a healthier lifestyle.

As part of the incentives to lead a healthier lifestyle some employers have instituted a penalty and reward system tied to the companies’ benefits.  For example, smokers may incur a significant surcharge to the cost of their health insurance plan while nonsmokers could see a reduction in cost.

According to an article in The New York Times, a growing numbers of companies including Home Depot, PepsiCo, Safeway, Lowe’s and General Mills are seeking higher premiums from some workers who smoke, similar to Wal-Mart’s addition of a $2,000-a-year surcharge for some smokers.

Escalating health care costs Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

Getting Everyone Involved In The Health Care Discussion

Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is re-launching Let’s Talk Health Care, which started life as former CEO Charlie Baker’s blog. There’s a series of related discussions going on now in the Let’s Talk Health Care Linked In group, sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim.  I’ve been participating (at the request of the group organizer; disclosure: client) and would like to invite you to do the same.

A salient characteristic of the site and of the group is the focus on three broad categories of care and cost: fostering health and wellness, balancing quality and cost, and redefining care coordination — all of which are informed by a focus on chronic health care issues.

One of the great successes of modern medicine is the conquest of most infectious disease.  (Equitable global distribution of the tools necessary for eradication is another story — and some of the more compelling chapters of that story are being told these days by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.) One of the great failures of the modern consumer state is Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*

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