Picture of a kid playing basketball
Category: Cost of Healthcare, Health and Wellness

It All Starts with the Kids

“As I look back over my life, I realize a few things about a lifetime of being overweight.”

 

Obesity is the consummate Straight Talk Issue.  Straight Talk isn’t just about rates that are rising because of regulatory changes; it’s about transparency and communication about what we are (and aren’t) doing to help ourselves out when it comes to the rising costs of medical care. And one reason medical costs are rising is because we simply are using more medical care than ever.  A big factor driving our increased need for medical care is obesity.

Too many overweight people get started very early in life on the wrong road to a normal, healthy weight and good nutrition.  Take me for example.

I’m a big guy. With a body mass index (BMI) over 35, nobody will ever call me “svelte,” just obese (almost morbidly so). At a little more than six feet tall, I tipped the scale this morning at 285 pounds. At 54 years old, I’m clearly pushing my luck on health status. As I look back over my life, I realize a few things about a lifetime of being overweight.

First, I wasn’t born overweight. I was a perfectly normal (for 1961) 7-pound baby. But thanks to the care and support of many, many loving relatives with very little nutritional information, by the age of 6 months I weighed about 32 lbs. (50% over high normal). My aunt used to joke that I could sit up way before the other kids because I simply was too big to tip over. Back then, a fat baby was a healthy baby! By 13, I was 5’5” tall and 185 lbs. Not a baby any more, just a tubby teenager.

Lack of good information about nutrition growing up, coupled with a love of eating all things sweet, means I’ve had a normal BMI exactly twice in my life. First, when I was 14 years old, I shot up from 5’6” to 6’1” in about four months. (Wish I could do that again!) Second time was when I was 22 and diagnosed with bone cancer.

Chemotherapy is a pretty harsh diet program (I don’t recommend it). I lost 55 pounds in about two months. Once I was well and back to my old habits, the weight piled back on. The rest of my life, I can say my BMI has run from 30 to 35 and almost never any lower than that.

“More than 30% of the adult population in Louisiana is just like me. That’s sad, but the part that makes me REALLY sad is that almost 40% of the kids in our state, specifically ages 10-17, are overweight like I was at their age.”

Today, at this weight, I’m pushing my luck. My doctor called me a “metabolic train wreck” the other day. I have high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, and my blood sugar/A1C keeps creeping up. To control all of that, I’m on four medications (two for blood pressure, one for cholesterol and one for insulin resistance) that I take every day. Religiously. To say I’ve battled my weight over my lifetime is nonsense. It’s more accurate to say I’ve surrendered to it. I started out behind and I haven’t tried hard enough to catch up. That’s my fault.

Since I live in Louisiana, I’m not alone in my BMI problem. In fact, I have a LOT of friends. More than 30% of the adult population in Louisiana is just like me. That’s sad, but the part that makes me REALLY sad is that almost 40% of the kids in our state, specifically ages 10-17, are overweight like I was at their age. Like I did, they are starting out on a bad road. And I’d really love to see them spared the lifetime of struggle being overweight has caused me. I wouldn’t wish my condition and bad habits on anyone.

“The Alliance is a partnership of insurers, nonprofits and healthcare groups that Blue Cross here in Louisiana has joined to try and break the chain of obesity by starting with children ages 3-17.”

The fact is, in addition to the health and societal issues obesity causes, it’s also very expensive. Children with elevated BMIs use three times as much healthcare over their lifetime as people who have a normal BMI and weight as children. Three times as much cost. The societal costs of obesity will approach $1 TRILLION a year in the U.S. by 2030. That’s right, ONE TRILLION DOLLARS. Obesity is a major contributor to the epidemic of diabetes we are experiencing right now as a nation.

We can certainly do better for our children.  And fortunately, help is here.

The American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation have noticed this problem and started the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The Alliance is a partnership of insurers, nonprofits and healthcare groups that Blue Cross here in Louisiana has joined to try and break the chain of obesity by starting with children ages 3-17.

Together, the Alliance and Blue Cross are working hard to teach kids how to develop lifelong, healthy habits in terms of diet AND exercise so they can improve their quality of life and lower their chances of long-term health effects like I have.

Starting this year, Blue Cross is addressing the problem through coverage, providing Healthier Generation Benefits to combat obesity. There are 73,000 children around the state who have access to these benefits, which let them:

  1. Get a free annual wellness exam from a primary care doctor to screen their BMIs.
  2. Get four covered visits with a registered dietitian to teach the children and their parents how to eat properly.
  3. If they meet certain criteria, get four ADDITIONAL primary care doctor visits for follow up and to make sure the children know somebody cares about them getting healthy.
  4. In certain cases, six months of intensive counseling to give kids the absolute best chance of living an obesity-free life.

Learn more about the Childhood Obesity Benefit.

As parents, it is our obligation to work as hard as we can to make sure our children get a strong, safe start in life. Information is power in that battle, and it can be used to help kids live healthier lives, even if we adults don’t do such a good job ourselves. Ideally, you want to set a great example, but even if you can’t (like me), you can use information, proper nutrition and parental guidance, and a doctor’s help to ensure your children maintain a healthy, normal weight.

Worked for my kids. Even at their favorite restaurant on Father’s Day, they ate healthy!

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