Obesity burdens states with more costs, illnesses
The Kansas City Star
Missouri’s weight problem is the public’s business. Ditto for Kansas.
Dealing with it head-on could save billions of dollars for taxpayers in both states.
A report released last week showed the two states creeping perilously close to the top 10 in the nation’s obesity rankings. Researchers projected Kansas would be tied with Louisiana as the seventh most obese state by 2030, with Missouri right behind in ninth place.
Right now, Missouri is the 12th most obese state, and Kansas is tied with Ohio for 13th.
The report, by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, projects that two-thirds of adults in both Kansas and Missouri will be obese by 2030 unless people make substantial changes in food and lifestyle patterns.
That is a frightening forecast. Obesity is a cause of diabetes, heart disease, strokes, depression, multiple types of cancer and other afflictions. It also is already a leading factor in staggering state Medicaid costs borne by taxpayers, and those will accelerate unless something is done.
The obesity question made for a rare moment of agreement Friday between Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Todd Akin, who are running for the U.S. Senate seat from Missouri now held by McCaskill.
Both said government had no business telling Americans what and how to eat.
Of course no one wants Uncle Sam roving the supermarket aisles, shooing shoppers away from the potato chips and toward the broccoli. But public officials make a big mistake by ignoring the obesity problem, or trying to pack it into a “big brother” box.
The financial and physical health of states and their populations depends on getting obesity under control. As last week’s report pointed out, Missouri could save $5 billion between now and 2030 by reducing its overall body mass index by 5 percent and preventing 180,000 cases of diabetes. Kansas could prevent 77,000 cases of diabetes and save $2.4 billion in health care costs.
One leader who gets it is Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. A few weeks ago he called together more than 200 state officials, health workers and members of the Governor’s Council of Fitness for a day-long summit on obesity.
By the end of the session, Brownback had assigned the secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Environment to assess how to get healthier foods and more opportunities for activity into all state cafeterias and residential facilities. Brownback also pledged to pull together a friendly competition to encourage “walking teams” around the state.
Participants came up with a host of other ideas for the public sector to influence food and lifestyle choices in a positive way. A sample:
Encourage more physical activity in child care centers, perhaps through licensing incentives.
Promote wellness programs in workplaces.
Work with retailers to encourage healthier food in underserved areas.
These aren’t huge, intrusive steps, but efforts elsewhere to get people moving and eating more fruits and vegetables have shown positive results. Kansas leaders should be commended for addressing the problem.
Missouri should take a lead from its neighbor. Though scattered anti-obesity efforts exist in the state, some of them coordinated by the Missouri Council for Activity & Nutrition, there has been no high-profile, concerted campaign to tackle this public health problem.
Missouri cannot afford to be in denial. Top leaders should get out in front of a campaign for healthier lifestyles.