Obesity – Worse than Cancer?

In an interview with CBS News last weekend, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called obesity data “alarming.”  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of American adults are overweight, and another third are obese.  Sebelius says the epidemic impacts our costs, quality of life, and economic productivity.  She asserts, “we are really putting ourselves at a huge disadvantage in a global economy by having a nation that is vastly overweight."

Sebelius is right on. Never before has our nation faced a public health crisis that has grown more rapidly than obesity.  And, if the trend continues, 103 million American adults will be considered obese by 2018 according to my new research (to be released next month).  That’s just 9 years down the line, and the associated costs will be crushing. 

As Sebelius noted, when measured in terms of cost, obesity is already worse than cancer: “About $147 billion a year are spent directly related to obesity and the underlying health conditions related to that. That compares with all the cancers that people have across America, which cost a little under $100 billion a year.”

Yet, as a nation, we are utterly immobilized – figuratively and literally – unable to take appropriate action to control our weight, live healthfully, and divert billions of dollars from away from medical care and back into our economy.  If Congress wishes to control costs in health care, they must put the obesity epidemic at the top of the agenda.