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Curbing Obesity Epidemic Key to Health Care Reform: Experts
Date:9/11/2009

1980.

People often see obesity as a personal failure, explained Christine C. Ferguson, director of the alliance and a research professor at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, in Washington, D.C. "The result is the problem has gotten worse and worse, and more and more expensive."

Obesity accounts for 9.1 percent of annual health-care spending in the United States, or nearly $150 billion annually, according to a study in a recent issue of Health Affairs.

To help arrest the epidemic, the alliance urges policymakers to include four specific elements in health reform:

  • Recognize proven clinical interventions. Studies demonstrate, for example, that shedding just 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight can lower the risk of heart disease and other chronic conditions.
  • Enhance the use of preventive services. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends obesity screening for all adults, yet studies show height and weight data often is not recorded during an office visit.
  • Foster community programs and polices that encourage and support healthy lifestyles. A community might design public spaces that accommodate walkers and bikers, for example, or sponsor a farmer's market to make fresh produce available to local residents.
  • Coordinate research efforts to improve the quality of care, show which interventions work in various settings and translate science into practice.

Morgan Downey, the alliance's policy adviser, noted one positive aspect of health reform proposals from the House of Representatives and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee: They eliminate the worry that overweight Americans might not be able to obtain health insurance coverage because of preexisting health conditions.

"Just the removal of that language really frees up individuals who are overweight or obese to have access to healt
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