Washington, D.C. – A bipartisan group of former cabinet secretaries released a comprehensive and actionable plan to improve America’s physical and fiscal crises, driven by the alarming rates of obesity and chronic disease today.
Former Secretaries of Agriculture Dan Glickman and Ann M. Veneman and former Secretaries of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala and Mike Leavitt released the recommendations today, calling needed attention to our mounting health care spending, which is expected to reach $4.6 trillion dollars annually by 2020 and consume 19.8% of GDP.
The report, entitled, Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future, from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative, calls on the public and private sectors to collaborate in creating healthy families, schools, workplaces and communities, focusing on existing best practices that can be implemented on a large scale to broaden their impact and help scale back obesity in the U.S. The co-chairs recognize that given America’s limited federal resources, any effective plan to reduce obesity and health care costs will need to engage private sector partners and build on successful examples, targeting those actions with the most promise to bring about large-scale shifts over time.
“We strongly believe that every sector has a role to play. Change will require leadership from all quarters,” said Leavitt at today’s event. “And diet is not the only thing that needs to change. Learning to be active early on, and staying active throughout our lifetimes, is critical to reducing obesity and chronic disease. To improve our performance in school, at work, and in the global economy, local public and private sector partners need to use existing infrastructure and leverage existing resources to increase physical activity.”
“We offer our recommendations as proof that Republicans and Democrats can work together to improve the nation’s physical and fiscal health,” said Glickman today. “There is no silver bullet. But we have identified numerous steps that show what is possible. We must all take action to beat this threat. America cannot afford for the obesity crisis to go unnoticed any longer.”
The report focuses on options to reduce obesity and chronic disease that could save the U.S. billions of dollars. If we were to stabilize obesity rates at 2010 levels, the United States could save nearly $550 billion over the next two decades. If Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure rates were reduced by 5%, the United States could save $5 billion in health care costs. Some strategies the report recommends include new dietary guidelines for a child’s first thousand days of life and updated physical activity guidelines for children under the age of six, including integrating 60 minutes of physical activity into the school day.
“Improving health outcomes early in life is a critical element in helping to shift our current health care system toward prevention,” said Veneman at the event. “In this era of fiscal constraint, we must establish and sustain practices that will improve health for all age groups. But improving health outcomes in early childhood through expanded dietary and physical activity guidelines, increased breastfeeding and improved opportunities in childcare settings is the most strategic, cost-effective way to prioritize our resources.”
Recognizing the role of large institutions, the report recommends that hospitals, universities, school systems, corporate cafeterias, national parks, sports arenas, the Department of Defense and others buy and serve healthier foods. Large employers also play a key role in the health of American workers. U.S. workers who are obese or overweight miss an additional 450 million work days per year compared to their healthy colleagues resulting in $153 billion in lost productivity costs. Through increased workplace wellness programs, employers can improve productivity, reduce absenteeism and cut health care costs.
“Doctors, nurses and health care professionals are uniquely positioned to inform and motivate Americans on the importance of good nutrition and physical activity. We recommend that all forms of medical education incorporate nutrition and physical activity training as part of the curriculum. We have an opportunity to reach lots of people where they work, attend school and exercise – and we must provide healthier food choices in those environments,” said Shalala at today’s press conference. “These players are beginning to respond to changes in demand, but much more can and must be done. Because of their market power, these large institutions have the ability to change the food supply chain in ways that reach millions of Americans.”
The Lots to Lose report emphasizes actionable steps to help control health care costs for families, businesses, doctors and government; ensure a large percentage of our population develops healthy eating habits, reduces weight gain and stays fit, using the buying power of large institutions to shift the food supply chains and help make healthier choices widely available and cost competitive; improve training for our nation’s health care professionals by incorporating comprehensive and consistent nutrition and physical activity training into all phases of medical education; and increase American worker productivity, reduce absenteeism and lower employer health care costs by creating a robust workplace registry of wellness and health promotion programs that is readily accessible to help guide employers of all sizes.
To download the full Lots to Lose report and supporting materials, click here.