Physical Activity

Cost of Obesity and Diabetes

Tayna Flanagan MS ED, ATC, CSCS
Tayna works at Olympic Physical Therapy in the Athletic Engineering Department in Kirkland Washington.

The following article contains information that may be difficult to read because of lack of exposure, living in a rural area, or being in a state of denial. At the very least, may the information provoke an honest self evaluation on the level of health and lifestyle behaviors for yourself, your own children, and/or the children you see daily.

As a nation, the state of our physical well-being is not improving. In fact the likelihood of finding 10 children that can properly perform 10 push-ups, 10 sit-ups, and have the ability to skip with reciprocated arm/leg movement is becoming farther and fewer between. On a superficial level there are evident contributors:

  1. In Snohomish County (north of Seattle) some children DO NOT have the opportunity to participate in school P.E. until the 3rd Grade.
  2. Some grade school children only get one recess per day, some might get three. There are no standards or regulations on these physical activity opportunities.
  3. Parks and recreation facilities are not always readily available for the general public. Cost of programs, commute distance, and safety are factors that must be evaluated when considering such programs.
  4. Busy schedules, conveniences such as prepared meals, and lack of appropriate planning or lack of ability to plan contribute to our poor lifestyle choices and behaviors.

Upon visiting with a local Seattle family doctor specializing in pediatrics, she said in the 70’s and 80’s the overweight kids “stuck out” in class photos. Now in 2014, the students within healthy weight guidelines (albeit BMI Standards) are the abnormality and overweight children are becoming the norm. The problem is becoming so evident lawmakers are trying their hand at creating change.

In California, a piece of legislation was introduced in 2013 under the “Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Act”, Bill Number SB 464 for Early Care and Education. The Excerpt/Abstract reads:

“Establishes standards for nutrition and physical activity for early childhood education programs, infant care programs and after-school programs, including 60 minutes of physical activity per day for full-day programs, no access to televisions or movies, the provision of fruits and vegetables at each meal, and restrictions on beverages provided. Encourages all child care providers to implement educational programs for parents that provide parents with physical activity and nutrition information for their children.”

The last sentence of the excerpt brings forward a critical piece to the puzzle as it discusses education to parents. In an effort to establish positive adult lifestyle behaviors, the lawmakers of Rhode Island and Wisconsin are trying to create incentives.

In 2013 the State of Rhode Island introduced Bill Number HB 5736. The Excerpt/Abstract reads:

“Creates the Small Employer Wellness Program Tax Credit, beginning January 1, 2014, that will be allowed for employers that provide wellness programs that include a health screening component, among other things.”

Similarly in Wisconsin, Bill Number SB 73 was introduced in 2013 also for workplace incentives. The Excerpt/Abstract reads: “Creates an income and franchise tax-credit for workplace wellness programs, including health screenings, nutrition education and fitness incentive programs, among other things.”

While these bills may or may not have become law, it is jaw dropping to consider the issue of being overweight has become so viral, lawmakers find it beneficial to introduce such programs. The following provides lifetime costs for adults who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or declared overweight/obese.

Physical Activity

According to the Center for Advancing Health, “a man diagnosed with type 2 diabetes between the ages of 25 and 44 can be expected to incur related costs of $124,700 over his lifetime. A woman diagnosed at the same age may incur related costs of $130,800 over her lifetime. Lifetime costs go down the later in life the diagnosis is made.” These calculations do not account for complications such as kidney disease, nerve damage, eye damage, heart disease, and amputations.

At the Harvard School of Public Health, “investigators found that in 2006, per capita medical spending for obese individuals was an additional $1,429 - $2,741 higher than for individuals who were not obese. It was concluded that, over the course of a lifetime, per-person costs for obesity were similar to those for smoking. In middle-age men, treatment of five common obesity-related conditions (stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol) resulted in roughly $9,000 to $17,000 higher costs compared to normal-weight adults.”

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) conducted a study (National Institutes of Health clinical trial number NCT00004992) and found people who made lifestyle changes in the first year of the study and lost 15 pounds reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58 percent over 3 years. The definition of lifestyle change for this study was walking 5 days a week for 30 minutes a day and lowering the intake of fat and calories. This information tells us change can happen if we as adults make different choices. These choices become behaviors and the model of which children will grow up knowing to be right and true.

As the ages for becoming overweight - obese and being diagnosed for type 2 diabetes gets younger and younger, we are adding at least 10-15 years to the above lifetime medical costs. Reviewing this information indicates we can improve the physical well-being of our bodies with a time investment of 30 minutes, five days a week. Considering these costs is also meant to drive home the importance of lifestyle behaviors, choices we make and a reminder we serve as role models. Of the three pieces of legislation presented, only one discussed the importance of educating the parents on the information that would be shared with their children. The other two proposals wanted to address adult behaviors. Both are good models only if there are actions that follow them. Being proactive is difficult but being reactive to poor lifestyle choices is a place no one wants to be. As the age old saying goes, “If you do not make time for health now, you will eventually have to make time for illness”.

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