Gallup report: Obesity costs cities millions
The nation’s high obesity rates are a financial problem as well as a health problem for the nation’s cities, according to a new report from New York-based Gallup. The polling company’s Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, published Jan. 27 in the Gallup Management Journal, estimates that the direct costs associated with obesity and related chronic conditions are about $50 million per 100,000 residents annually in cities with the highest rates of obesity.
The index, which is based on Gallup’s 2009 studies of 187 U.S. metro areas, found that the majority of cities studied need to cut their obesity rates by at least one-quarter to come close to the national goal of 15 percent set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and cities with the highest rates of obesity need to cut their rates by more than half. If all 187 cities reduced their obesity rates to the 15 percent mark, the country could save $32.6 billion in healthcare costs annually. If only the nation’s 10 most obese cities, where at least one-third of residents reported a body mass index (BMI) higher than 30, cut their rates to the national 2009 average of 26.5 percent, they could collectively save nearly $500 million in healthcare costs each year. The cost savings would climb to nearly $1.3 billion annually if the top 10 cut obesity rates to 15 percent.
The Gallup report suggests that the problem be addressed with greater awareness and a combination of community measurement and education. It also says that government officials should apply behavioral economics to the problem and change social expectations. Specifically, local governments can:
• Use behavioral economics to promote healthy behaviors among their residents. Some cities are already developing “wellbeing institutes” that house local health, wellbeing, and economic data.
• Invest in widening and lengthening walking/biking paths to encourage pedestrian traffic to grocery stores, schools, and mass transit, and denote bike lanes on city roads.
• Levy additional taxes on foods that are high in sugar to reduce their purchase and consumption.
• Maintain a security presence in at-risk neighborhoods to ensure that people feel safe when they shop fresh food stands and farmers markets.
• Certify and promote restaurants that offer smaller portions and a wide selection of heart-healthy fare as “community wellbeing” establishments.
• Certify and promote grocery stores that make it easy for shoppers to find healthy, low-fat foods and that provide free recipes for healthy home cooking.
• Encourage healthcare, business, political, and education leaders to share and discuss common goals and metrics to measure their efforts toward improvement. Bringing leaders together regularly to analyze leading and lagging indicators of their community’s physical wellbeing could drive decisive action and policies to create positive results, according to Gallup.
Read the entire Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.