These days, more often than not, we listen to, read about, or perhaps experience the visible problem of expanding waistlines. While an often repeated topic in our news today, it’s vital that the growing obesity issue in the United States remain a worthy subject. Not only is it affecting the wellbeing of our population by contributing to numerous medical issues such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, sleep disorders, hypertension and stroke, certain cancers, depression and many other disorders, but it is also impacting our already distressed economy.
The cost of treating obesity-related conditions is rising substantially. National health expenditure accounted for 16.2 percent of the gross domestic product in 2008 and is projected to reach 19.3 percent by 2019, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates the 2008 annual healthcare cost of obesity in this country was as high as $147 billion dollars with medical expenses 42 percent higher for obese employees than healthy weight employees.
Conveniently located right in our own backyard, Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer for the Cleveland Clinic, helps set us straight on this sizeable crisis. You may recognize this health guru as a frequent guest on The Dr. Oz and Oprah Winfrey shows. He also hosts his own show on HealthRadio, teamed up with heart surgeon Dr. Mehmet Oz to write the three popular YOU books, authored several bestselling RealAge books, is co-creator and co-founder of the website RealAge, (determines actual age of your body rather than calendar age), and still practices anesthesiology and internal medicine in Cleveland.
Roizen says healthcare spending is threatening the health of our economy. “If our employers are spending 16 cents for every dollar on healthcare, they can’t compete with lower prices, and that is making us less competitive for jobs.”
Working to make a difference, President Barack Obama devoted $1 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for prevention and wellness programs. And, with kids today facing a shorter than expected lifespan than their parents due to being overweight or obese, First Lady Michelle Obama is making childhood obesity a priority this year through the Let’s Move campaign. The goal is to provide healthier foods in schools, increase physical activity in schools and offer more information and access to healthy, affordable foods for parents.
Supporting the administration’s campaign for change, Roizen says, “Someone in authority has to make the case, whether it is [CEO] Dr. Toby Cosgrove for the Cleveland Clinic or the Obamas for Americans. This is a key component in our fight to get healthier and to be more competitive for jobs.”
Roizen points out that something must be done. “We are gaining one pound per person per year,” he says. “The average Ohioan weighs 20 pounds more than he did in 1990 at the same age and height.”
The CDC reports that 30 percent of the US adult population is obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, 19.6 percent of children ages 6 to 11 are obese and 18.1 percent of children ages 12 to 19. Ohio was ranked 10th worst state in the United States in 2008 with 28.7 percent obese adults.
“It means that we must make a culture change,” says Roizen, admitting that it will not be a quick fix. “To make the nation more competitive through lower healthcare costs, we must do more physical activity, make it easier to get fruits and vegetables, and harder to get white breads and sugar and saturated foods.”
Roizen explains that Cleveland Clinic is being used as a model to see what might work in our community. Offering wellness programs free of charge, loading vending machines with healthier options and offering healthier cafeteria and patient servings have become the norm at the hospital. “Employees have lost thousands of pounds in the last 15 months,” says Roizen. He describes some of the meaningful steps to make this transformation possible: change in environment to make it easier to choose healthy options, teaming up with a support buddy who has changed through diet and exercise so an employee can see that it can be done, and using muscle memory (a term that describes not feeling right when a daily physical activity or healthy food choice is skipped).
The Clinic extended free options to Cuyahoga County communities. Roizen says more than 25,000 residents joined their Go!FIT Challenge recently which included three months free membership to Curves or a YMCA location. “This was done with the hope residents would continue on their own,” he says. The Clinic also supports a local farmers market located on campus every Wednesday between June and October. “Last year we had 47 buses running from neighborhood churches to the market with WIC coupons to purchase fresh produce.”
Roizen makes it abundantly clear that people should not blame poor eating habits on the idea that healthy foods are too expensive. “This is an excuse that isn’t a real one,” he says, noting just one example: “Apples are produced in Ohio in abundant quantities and are about 35 cents each. It costs more than that for a Big Mac.” More health tips can be found on the Cleveland Clinic's wellness pages.
Our famous local wellness expert leaves us with a few hints of his own to lose weight and become healthy: 1) Walk 30 minutes a day and find a buddy to walk with; 2) Avoid saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and syrups; 3) Eat only 100 percent whole grain; 4) Lift weights even if it is your own weight when you exercise; and 5) Know you get a do-over if you mess up.