There was a time when one's height, weight and overall appearance were used to conclude if a person was overweight. As the health care field progressed, we were introduced to the term body mass index.
BMI still relies on the correlation between height and weight, but it offers a more accurate assessment of one's condition. Adults who have a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Those with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese.
Obesity rates are paid close attention by health care officials and government leaders, as disease rates and health care costs expand right along with waistlines. A report out this week predicts dramatic increases during the next 20 years in Kansas and throughout the country. America's getting bigger, and we're all paying the price.
"This study shows us two futures for America's health," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which produced the report along with Trust for America's Health. "At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable."
The report, titled "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012," is an annual analysis that for the first time is projecting this far into the future. If current trendlines continue, our problems will be huge.
Kansas, which already claims 30 percent of its population as obese, is predicted to hit 62 percent by the year 2030. The related health care costs could climb 11.2 percent as a result.
That is a super-sized problem. The analysis suggests the increase will result in 367,777 new cases of type 2 diabetes, 769,578 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, 713,158 new cases of hypertension, 460,030 new cases of arthritis, and 106,322 new cases of obesity-related cancer in Kansas.
The national picture isn't much better. Across the country, 36 percent of Americans are obese. The report predicts that figure to reach 50 percent. Thirteen states will be in excess of 60 percent, like Kansas. Thirty-nine states will surpass 50 percent. Neighboring Colorado, which will be the thinnest state, will have 45 percent of its population in this category.
Current estimates of the medical cost to treat adult obesity range from $147 billion to $210 billion annually. The yearly number is expected to jump anywhere between $48 billion and $66 billion by 2030. Additionally, annual economic productivity will drop between $390 billion and $580 billion by that year.
To avoid or at least lessen such a heavy economic toll on the country and the individual health effects, the report does offer common-sense solutions. No surprise, all focus on losing weight.
"We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago," said Jeff Levi, Ph.D., executive director of TFAH. "This report also outlines how policies like increasing physical activity time in schools and making fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable can help make healthier choices easier. Small changes can add up to a big difference. Policy changes can help make healthier choices easier for Americans in their daily lives."
The policies include implementing the new school meal standards, updating nutrition standards for snacks and beverages in schools, investing in prevention measures, prioritizing physicial activity, and expanding support beyond the doctor's office.
America and Kansas are not just getting fatter, we're creating an epidemic that will affect all of us. We now have a good idea what the costs soon will become. Do we have the will to do something about it?
We can only hope.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry