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Washington State Has the Opportunity to Lead on Addressing the Obesity Epidemic

From Seattle Business MagazineBy: Tommy G. Thompson, Former U.S. Health and Human Services SecretaryFirst the good news: Obesity rates increased in just six states in 2013 – and Washington was not one of them, according to a recently released report by the Trust for America’s Health.Now, the not so good news: 27.2 percent of Washington adults are obese, the 32nd highest in the nation.And now the really bad news: The report predicts that Washington’s adult obesity rate will climb to 55.5 percent by 2030, just 16 years from now.This reflects what we are seeing across the nation: The report projects that a majority of states will have obesity rates exceeding 50 percent by 2030. That is unacceptable – and presents a terrifying proposition for the health of our nation, our communities and our families.By now, we all know the recipe for losing or keeping weight off – eat a balanced diet and stay active. And we all know the consequences of not doing so: a litany of chronic diseases that shorten lives and severely hamper our quality of life.Those chronic diseases are killing more and more of our family members and putting a massive strain on our health system. In fact, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health shows that three times more deaths than previously thought are related to obesity – both among men and women, and at older ages.That, quite simply, is unacceptable. We need personal solutions – and we need policy solutions to get obesity under control.First, personally. This is one that we have been pushing for years. We must take personal responsibility by eating less, eating healthier and exercising more.We all know that is the answer to better health, and this is where Seattle – and Washington as a whole – can and should take a leadership role and support residents seeking to lead healthier lifestyles....Medicare must begin covering medicines to treat obesity because chronic diseases are a primary driver of higher costs in the Medicare system – and, as we know, obesity is a primary cause of chronic disease.The federal government already recognizes the need to cover these medicines. The Office of Personnel Management – the human resources department for government – recently said federal health plans should pay for weight loss medicines, under appropriate circumstances.Treating obesity with medicines will improve the health of millions of Americans because it will help prevent them from getting sick in the first place. In other words, if Medicare begins covering these treatments, it will significantly reduce the long term costs associated with obesity-related chronic diseases.Obesity is a condition that we would be wise to cover and treat early and often, because the tidal wave of diseases that come in its wake are much more costly in dollars and lives. We simply must stop waiting for people to get sick and then spend infinitely more trying to make them well again.Tommy G. Thompson is the former Governor of Wisconsin and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. Thompson will be part of a panel discussion in Seattle on October 2nd as part of a national campaign by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease to raise awareness about the cost of chronic disease for patients and the U.S. economy.Read the full article