High Healthcare Costs Linked to Preventable Diseases

Blacks increasingly at risk for obesity

NEWS_HLTHdisparitySmoking, poor eating habits, and lack of exercise are contributing to an epidemic of chronic, preventable diseases that are alarming for the future health of the nation and for African Americans in particular, according to a new report.

The United States currently spends more per capita than any other nation on healthcare, including $1.5 trillion in medical costs associated with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, according to a report from the United Health Foundation released Tuesday. These diseases are said to have a direct link to smoking and obesity, the nation’s two largest national risk factors.

“We know that the results and the consequences of these [preventable diseases] will show themselves in … ultimately a worsening of health disparities and a shortening of lifespan,” says Dr. Reed Tuckson, executive vice president and chief of medical affairs for UnitedHealth Group.

An analysis of the study shows that America now spends $80 billion in direct healthcare costs associated with obesity. At this rate, obesity will add nearly $344 billion to the nation’s annual healthcare costs by 2018 and account for more than 21% of healthcare spending.

“This is not only incompatible with meaningful survival it is incompatible with affordability for healthcare,” says Dr. Tuckson.

Obesity has increased nearly 130% since the first edition of the report, “America’s Health Rankings,” was issued 20 years ago. While 27% of the population is currently obese, almost 37% of African Americans are obese. In fact, the prevalence of obesity among African Americans increased by 42% in the past 10 years, according to the report.

The report also provides an annual ranking of the healthiness of each state. Ohio ranked No. 1 as the state with the highest prevalence of obesity (43.1%) among African Americans compared with whites in the state (27.7%), and Virginia led the country in the incidences of diabetes among African Americans (14.9%) compared with 7% of whites.

Because obesity plays such a huge part in other chronic illnesses and since the prevalence of obesity among African Americans is so high, then African Americans will carry a higher burden of the economic costs of these illnesses and it will significantly affect the stability of the black family, Dr. Tuckson says.

The prevalence of smoking, the other risk factor that results in preventable chronic diseases, decreased among African Americans by 7% in the past 10 years. Yet, African Americans still smoke at a higher rate than the national average.

The United Health Foundation will publish tips, tools and programs online, including a searchable database that can be used to find out how each state — and the nation — rates now compared to 20 years ago; and an obesity cost calculator that highlights current national and state-specific costs of obesity and projects future costs.

The foundation, which published the findings in partnership with the American Public Health Association, and the Partnership for Prevention, hope individuals, elected officials, healthcare professionals, employers, and communities use the findings to improve the health of American citizens by implementing methods of prevention.

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