Will obesity make Medicare go bankrupt?

obesityAmericans are fat and are getting fatter. During the past 20 years there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States. In 2008, only one state (Colorado) had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%. Thirty-two states had a prevalence equal to or greater than 25%; six of these states (Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia ) had a prevalence of obesity equal to or greater than 30%.

This increase in girth is also fueling the increase in chronic diseases such as heart disease, several types of cancer and diabetes. According to a new study by researchers based at the University of Chicago, the number of people with diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes will climb from almost 24 million this year to about 44 million in 2034. Over the same period, annual diabetes-related treatment costs are expected to increase from $113 billion to $336 billion in 2007 dollars. Medicare spending on diabetes is expected to jump from $45 billion to $171 billion and could exceed current projections for all Medicare costs. According to the researchers, these numbers may be conservative because they assume that the number of obese people will stay the same. The numbers may end up much worse as the baby boomers move towards retirement and, in many cases, even less activity. About 90% of diabetics have Type 2, which is directly related to excess body fat and it is striking people at youngerand younger ages.

Obesity also causes of wide range of "aging" problems. The extra weight puts additional strain on hips, knees and ankles that can lead to destruction of cartilage and eventual replacement. It is estimated that for every extra pound we carry, it is an additional four pounds of stress on our knees. So if you are 10 pounds overweight, that is an additional 40 pounds.

Since cholesterol and triglycerides are, in part, produced in adipose tissue (fat), obesity also means a possible increase in these lipids. High levels of these fat molecules affect all the small blood vessels in the body including the heart and brain. We are likely to see an increased level of heart disease and Alzheimer's as obesity continues to increase; both of which are very costly to treat.

Want a good "health care plan" for the US? Keep your weight in check.

Barbara Bartlein, RN, MSW, is the People Pro. For her FREE e-mail newsletter, please visit: The People Pro.
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