California could dramatically cut health care costs and prevent obesity-related diseases if the state reduced the average body mass index (BMI) of its residents by just 5 percent by 2030, according to a new analysis in the F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012 report.
The report, released by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), also shows that if obesity rates continue on their current trajectories, 46.6 percent of adult Californians could be obese by 2030. The projected consequences would be significant: more than 3 million new cases of type 2 diabetes, 8.4 million new cases of coronary heart disease, stroke and hypertension, 5.5 million new cases of arthritis, and 1.3 million new cases of obesity-related cancer.
African Americans and Hispanics, who disproportionately suffer from obesity and its related diseases, make up 43.4 percent of California's total population, according to the latest Census report.
"This study shows us two futures for America's health," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. "At every level of government, we must pursue policies that preserve health, prevent disease and reduce health care costs. Nothing less is acceptable."
The analysis, which was commissioned by TFAH and RWJF and conducted by the National Heart Forum, is based on a peer-reviewed model published last year in The Lancet. Findings include:
How Reducing Obesity Could Lower Health Care Costs and Disease Rates
If residents' BMI dropped by 5 percent, California could save 7.6 percent in health care costs, which would equate to savings of $81.7 billion by 2030. A person who is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 210 pounds, would be classified as obese (with a BMI of 30.1). A 5 percent reduction in his or her BMI would be the equivalent of losing roughly 10.5 pounds.
The number of Californians who could be spared from developing obesity-related diseases includes:
• type 2 diabetes: 796,430 people;
• coronary heart disease and stroke: 656,970 people;
• hypertension: 698,431 people;
• arthritis: 387,850 people; and
• obesity-related cancers: 52,769 people.
On the basis of the data collected and a comprehensive analysis, TFAH and RWJF recommend making investments in obesity prevention in a way that matches the severity of the health and financial toll the epidemic takes on the nation. The report provides a series of policy recommendations, including:
• Fully implement the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act through new school meal standards and updating nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages in schools;
• Increase investments in effective, evidence-based obesity-prevention programs;
• Protect the Prevention and Public Health Fund and fully implement the National Prevention Strategy and Action Plan;
• Make physical education and physical activity a priority in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act;
• Finalize the guidelines of Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children;
• Fully support healthy nutrition in federal food programs; and
• Encourage full use of preventive health care services and provide support beyond the doctor's office.
"We know a lot more about how to prevent obesity than we did 10 years ago," said Jeff Levi, PhD, 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 full report with state rankings in all categories is available on TFAH's website at www.healthyamericans.org and RWJF's website at www.rwjf.org. The report was supported by a grant from RWJF.