Now and Later

April 18, 2008

Over the past few years you've probably heard about the problem this country is facing. No, not social security or higher gas prices. The huge problem we're facing is that we're becoming huge. Every year we keep getting fatter and fatter. We hear how obesity rates are rising but all we do is stick to our old habits.

The CDC releases obesity statistics each year. On the left is a map from 1991. The colors indicate what percentage of a state's population is obese (not overweight but obese - which is a lot worse). You can see a quick slide show by visiting this web site. Basically the maps show we are getting very fat. In 1991, one of the worst states was Mississippi.

Between 15% and 19% of its population was obese. In 2006, Mississippi was still one of the fattest states with obesity rates reaching greater than 30%. That means you can walk down the street and count 1 out of every 3 people who are obese. I wonder what the other two look like. If you go to the CDC web site and watch the animation, you can see from the late 80s to the present, the colors get darker and darker - which means we are getting more and more obese. I'm guessing they'll need a new shade pretty soon.

Obesity already costs this country about $100 billion each year, and that is direct health costs. The sum is even greater when you take into account indirect costs such as decreased productivity. About half of the $100 billion is covered by Medicare and Medicaid which means even those of us who are not sick are paying for it. I bet those other two people from Mississippi aren't too happy about that.

Even if public healthcare doesn't cover the other half, those of us with health insurance are still suffering. Insurance works by pooling risk together. If costs for treating obesity starts hitting the insurance companies, they'll pass on higher premiums to everyone, even the healthy people. As we get fatter and unhealthier, the costs will go up, our workforce will become less productive and as a result our economy will start to feel the extra weight.

Only through prevention can we really tackle this problem. When you're already obese and suffering from diabetes, heart disease and even cancer, it might be too late to change your lifestyle. It takes years to get to that level so start taking care of yourself now.

Taking care of the problem now is as easy as eating healthy food and engaging in moderate physical activity. If you wait till later, you'll be going to the doctors, taking medicine, going through surgery or even worse. This isn't meant to scare you. It's meant to open your eyes to the reality of waiting until there is a problem to solve it which is exactly why social security and gas prices are big issues.