The Costs of Obesity

Jul 28, 2009, 8:23 AM, Posted by Minna Jung

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation writes about a new study on the high costs of obesity in America.

A new study released yesterday that demonstrates the clear link between rising rates of obesity and increasing medical costs is alarming, but not unexpected.  Right now, America's health care system is set up to focus on treating people after they already have a health problem, and that’s a sure way to drive expenditures up.  We must shift our focus to preventing people from getting sick in the first place, which will save us money in the long run.

Obesity is the driver of so many chronic conditions—heart disease, diabetes, cancer—that generate the exorbitant costs that are crushing our health care system. What’s worse is the quality of life for people living with these illnesses.

The obesity epidemic isn’t just an adult epidemic, it’s booming among our kids. Today, more than 23 million children and adolescents in the United States—nearly one in three young people—are either obese or overweight, putting them at higher risk for serious, even life-threatening health problems.  The costs are only going to continue to rise.

Reform in our health financing and delivery systems is not the only answer to rising health care costs, we must have prevention.  We must change public policy and local environments in ways that make all communities healthier—especially those that have the highest rates of obesity and the fewest resources.  All Americans deserve to enjoy the benefits of good health.

In the coming months, as Congress works to enact meaningful health reform legislation, I strongly encourage comprehensive reform that addresses the delivery of care, but also makes wholesale changes to how we address wellness and prevention in this country.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.