Heavy toll

12/1/2012

Governments should embrace strategies to curb obesity.

Governments should embrace strategies to curb obesity.

Gov. Sam Brownback wants to set a healthy example for others in the Sunflower State.

Brownback recently announced a weight-loss contest among state employees as part of a plan to encourage all Kansans to fight obesity and adopt healthier eating habits.

The competition was one strategy from a council the governor formed to address obesity in a state now ranked 13th fattest in the nation, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics.

Such weight-loss challenges have grown in popularity as companies and communities recognize the cost of obesity. The Garden City Recreation Commission, for example, organizes an annual weight-loss competition for the local community.

Brownback's challenge came amid escalating figures related to weight gain and the cost of medical treatment for Kansans packing too many pounds.

State officials report the percentage of Kansans considered obese rose from 15 percent in 1995 to 30.1 percent in 2010, and cite poor nutrition and physical inactivity as the second leading preventable cause of death, behind tobacco use.

An estimated $1.3 billion is spent annually in Kansas on obesity-related medical expenditures, according to the state, with $385 million paid by Medicaid and Medicare. One study found obese individuals pay on average $1,429 (42 percent) more in health care costs than normal-weight people.

Interestingly, the wellness initiative backed by Kansas' conservative Republican governor is something akin to a movement started by Democratic President Barack Obama's wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.

The first lady launched a national "Let's Move" campaign in 2010 to encourage children and families to be more active and eat better. Increased physical activity for children and lower-calorie school lunches were among the sensible strategies.

Pursuit of better health shouldn't be a politically divisive issue. If there is disagreement, it's in how far government should go in encouraging healthier living when bad personal choices cost society as a whole.

Republicans and Democrats alike should know that as obesity cuts short many lives and puts so much pressure on Medicare and Medicaid, there's much to gain in the battle against the bulge.

It's a cause all policymakers should embrace, regardless of their political persuasion.

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