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Friday, November 22, 2013

America’s Biggest Fiscal Problem: The Fat Are Getting Fatter

Much of U.S. politics focuses on the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer. But does anyone care that the fat are getting fatter?

The U.S. adult obesity rate so far this year is on pace to surpass all annual average obesity rates since Gallup-Healthways began tracking it five years ago.

Health costs are going to bankrupt us. At the current annual 6% growth rate, our total healthcare bill will go from $2.5 trillion per year -- which it is now -- to almost exactly $4.5 trillion in 10 years. If you add the stubs of the increases over the 10-year period, above the running $2.5 trillion our debt-burdened nation can’t afford, it totals a staggering $10 trillion.

To put this in perspective, the sum of our coming healthcare costs are three times the size of the subprime meltdown that brought America and the world to its knees. While we survived the subprime mess, healthcare costs will honestly break the nation.

Things look even worse when you compare America’s per person healthcare spending to comparable societies. We spend more than $8,000 annually per person, where Canada and Germany each spends roughly $4,500 per person, and the United Kingdom spends about $3,500, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development -- and residents of those countries all live longer.

So is our American healthcare system superior? You tell me.

Americans obviously understand that this is a huge problem. Nearly a quarter of us say cost is the most urgent health problem facing the U.S., surpassing healthcare access for the first time since 2006. Obesity remains the No. 1 health condition named.

Keep in mind that all of the hoopla about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, has little to do with reducing the bloated and growing $2.5 trillion expense. Obamacare attempts to address the insurance issue -- who pays for what -- but it doesn’t go after the core problem: Americans are too fat and unhealthy, and the vast majority of our health problems are preventable.

That’s right -- the Centers for Disease Control concluded a few years ago that of all of America’s chronic health problems, a whopping 70%, are preventable. And what is the common thread among these chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease? Being obese puts people at higher risk for developing all of them.

Rather than go on and on about whether the ACA website works or not, or who wins and loses politically in 2014 and 2016 because of a disastrous rollout, shouldn’t the media be trumpeting this headline: 70% of Health Problems in America Are Preventable

I just figured the overall weight of Americans, and it’s right at about 56 billion pounds if I assume 180 pounds per person. As a nation, in my view if we collectively lost about 10 billion pounds of excess weight, we might reduce our healthcare costs by a third. And we wouldn’t need all of these wasted political conversations, because we could balance the budget. Even better, the fix would be free -- it wouldn’t require a new law, sequestration, or a shutdown.

That’s because the real fix doesn’t lie within political battles over insurance coverage. It lies within a sudden new culture of American fitness -- and that begins with eating less and exercising more.


Brad said...
November 29, 2013 at 5:04 PM  

I agree with much of this, except the last sentence is only true in part. It's not only that Americans eat too much, but also the quality of the food is extremely bad. Sugar and vegetable oil in everything. People need to stop eating man-made food and get back to natural (single ingredient) foods - meat, eggs, dairy, veggies, fruit, nuts, and organic and naturally raised foods. No CAFO's, no GMO's, no hormones. The food industry bears a lot of blame here too.
You don't have to necessarily eat less if you eat a nutrient dense diet. That means no calorically dense but nutrient poor foods like SUGAR, white flour, soy/corn oil, etc.

Gunnar Fox said...
November 29, 2013 at 7:46 PM  

Mr. Clifton, I agree with the essence of your economic analysis and also with your notion that disease is largely preventable.

But respectfully, your prescription to "eat less and exercise more" appears to reflect myths about how and why people become overweight.

I call to your attention the work of Robb Wolf, Andreas Eenfeldt and Gary Taubes, among others, who support a higher fat and protein intake and a reduction in carbohydrate.

Here is a link that reflects how Sweden is properly attacking the problem:

Anonymous said...
December 3, 2013 at 7:02 PM  

Unfortunately, the author is wrong in assuming that the healthcare costs would go down if people just lost weight. They would not, the medical industry would just charge more for other services to make up the difference. The primary problem in this country is not that people are particularly unhealthy, but it is a lack of transparency and competition in the medical industry.

Frank Franklin said...
December 8, 2013 at 12:23 PM  

Mr. Clifton nails the real issue with a straight hit on the head. The feds cannot control what we feed ourselves nor get us off the couch. While they can facilitate healthier behaviors, ultimately it is up to us to take charge of our own health. As Pogo said, "we have met the enemy and it is us".

Anonymous said...
December 11, 2013 at 11:20 AM  

You heard the man, lardbutts! Drop the chips and get off the couch!

Anonymous said...
December 11, 2013 at 11:48 AM  

"So is our American healthcare system superior? You tell me."

Yes. The American healthcare system is superior. The standards for medical practice in the US are unparalleled by any other nation. High obesity rates in America are do to cultural and societal factors, not our healthcare system. Doctors can stress the importance of exercise, a proper diet, and a healthy lifestyle, but it is ultimately the responsibility of individuals to follow this advice. More emphasis must be placed on individual accountability, rather than blaming the problem on the healthcare system.

Anonymous said...
December 12, 2013 at 2:39 PM  

the last comments are absolutely correct. Lets take responsibility for our own bad behaviour and start eating healthy.. Stop blaming the system or the "man"... and look in the mirror.

Ericka said...
December 12, 2013 at 4:51 PM  

One very large reason the obesity rate is so high is that more and more people are in or at the poverty level... cheaper foods are high in sugar and carbs and snap benefits are so low that cheap foods are people can afford. Top Ramen, mac & cheese and cheap cereals might be their best options. There's a much bigger picture here than healthcare costs and our healthcare system... it's a poverty problem and as far as the middle and upper class, more people are eating fast food due to our busy lifestyles of being on the go. Then another problem is the lack of veggies and fruit available to people to be able to make those smart food choices. My sister moved from California to Missouri and couldn't believe the lack of resources of fresh food!

Anonymous said...
December 12, 2013 at 5:19 PM  

So everything is the fault of fat people? Sounds discriminatory, but then again, fat people are just about the only group left that CAN still be descriminated against.
Obesity in this country is a result of several factors, not just that individuals are lazy and need to eat less and exercise more.
1. Genetics - some people have a predisposition to being overweight. It is in their genes, they can't control that. Yes, they can do things to help stay healthy, but combined with other factors, as seen below, will make it difficult to stay healthy.
2. Fast Food culture - eat now, food now, good tasting, bad for you food - now!
3. Processed foods - all the crappy food in the fast food joints, restaurants, and even the grocery store are all processed and bad for you. Go on a diet and eat fruits and vegetables? Great, did that, didn't work. Why? Because all the supposedly healthy fruits and vegetables from the grocery store were pumped up with growth hormones when grown, or processed, and stored in preservatives all of which when put into the body promotes obesity.
4. Media - talk about promoting obesity! Food ads are everywhere. Talk about feeding tempations! Let's make it as difficult as possible to stick to that diet by bombarding people with food ads.
5. Health Care - yeah they may suggest losing weight and exercising, but offer no practical methods that will actually work and that one can actually afford. Gastric bypass surgeries and the like used to be considered non-covered procedures by Insurance companies, but now due to demand and this crisis, have become covered, but there are still a lot of hoops to jump through. These types of surgeries are part of why the costs of healthcare are increasing. But , it's not just the obese that increase that cost because they don't exercise enough. We can get into all sorts of other preventable health issues that are increasing health care costs, such as abortions where a simple fix may be to simply keep your legs closed; or breast cancer where a fix for some is don't take oral contraceptives, etc. So why aren't those things in the news? Oh, because your angle is to blame just the fat people.
6. Insurance - so why is it that you up to recently would cover abortions or breast cancer treatments when those folks could have kept their legs closed or not consumed oral contraceptives, but wouldn't cover obesity treatments because someone ate too much food, couldn't move well, and thus was unable to exercise?
It has always peaved me that smoking cessation classes, resources, etc. are covered by insurance, but weight loss programs, etc. are not! What the hey?!
All of these things are "our fault", not mine or yours, but ours. We do all of these things to ourselves, but society sure does make it easy for us to abuse our bodies in a variety of ways. This is an extemely broken society and until we crash and burn for all our past sins, we will not see any easy fixes for any of it. It is not just he fault of fat people!

Anonymous said...
December 13, 2013 at 3:45 AM  

Whether the analysis of Mr. Clifton is right or wrong is a moot point. At least he has the courage to raise a "politically incorrect" and incendiary topic: that behavioral choices which lead to health problems not only cause economic consequences, the results of this mess are hugely demotivating for those who make wiser choices but are still asked to foot the bill for those who do not. The medical conditions he mentions such as diabetes and heart diseases are indeed preventable. They cannot be prevented however by some fancy national program, they can only be prevented by individual people taking responsibility for the choices they make and the FINANCIAL consequences associated with them.

Anonymous said...
December 16, 2013 at 10:50 AM  

so where's my post?

Anonymous said...
December 20, 2013 at 2:30 PM  

Yes Americans should eat less and exercise more. I wholeheartedly agree with this. I think many Americans eat huge platters. Coming from a family that are light eaters in this country, it's still a little shocking how many people in the USA can eat an appetizer, then some kind of full beverage, the main course with more beverage, and then dessert right after.

However we must remember that the worst food is the cheapest food, and that is what a huge amount of Americans are buying. Not only that, many aren't educated very well. With advertisements that brainwash the viewers thoroughly, many Americans go the way of fast food and junk food rather than a healthy meal because of how they are being programmed. Marketers are the professionals at locking on a demographic and bombarding them with visuals and sounds to turn their brain into what they want.

Also these bad foods have some kind of addictive quality to them. It's the perfect murder for most people. I would say creating a country of obese and dumb people is a great way to keep everyone in line and under control. Hmm, I wonder...

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