June 18, 2018
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Obesity’s Simple Solution

The solution to being overweight is remarkably simple, and encapsulated in an easy-to-grasp formula — calories in, calories out. Decrease the former, increase the latter. But, of course, knowing that we need to eat less and exercise more is easier to understand than it is to implement for most of us.

Obesity is something that larger forces, such as insurance companies and governments that fund health care, have decided to focus on.

By definition, someone is obese when he or she has a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater. (To calculate your BMI, visit cdc.gov.) Here in Maine, about 30 percent of the state’s 1.3 million are overweight or obese. That’s 390,000 people, and increasingly, many of them are children.

Health care officials and state policymakers don’t worry about obesity because they fear you won’t look good in a bathing suit this summer. Weight worries should not be confused with vanity. No, overweight children and adults are a problem for all of us; they pose as much health risk to them-selves as those who use tobacco, and when those health risks become health realities, the cost of treatment is borne by us all.

Though personal liberties are at the core of what it is to be an American, the right to be fat soon may be circumscribed by corporate or government action, or both. Insurance companies are able to charge higher rates for life insurance and health insurance for those who smoke cigarettes. The day may come soon when a sliding fee for health insurance corresponds to the percentage of enrollees whose BMI is 30 or more.

Most insurance companies prefer to use a more positive approach. Some ask enrollees voluntarily to allow an in-depth health assessment. If that assessment shows the individual is overweight, exhibits borderline high blood pressure and is at risk for heart disease or diabetes, the insurance company is willing to pay a health care professional to work with the individual to make lifestyle changes to reduce those risks. It’s not necessarily compassion; it’s smart business.

But it’s the sort of business health care, business and government leaders must embrace. As with most pervasive problems, there will be no simple solution for obesity. It must be resisted on multiple fronts: more education for children and their parents about what constitutes a healthful diet; more physical activity as part of the school day; more awareness on the part of employers to encourage walking and other easy exercise routines during the workday; change in poverty relief programs so healthful, whole foods are more likely to be purchased than highly processed fatty foods.

Just as society turned the tide on smoking through multiple policies, obesity can be reversed.

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