Minnesotans' Health Stuck In Idle From Inactivity, Unhealthy Eating

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Less than one quarter of Minnesota adults will be at a healthy weight by 2020 according to a new report issued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) and the Minnesota Department of Health. The study, entitled Obesity and Future Health Care Costs: A Portrait of Two Minnesotas, highlights the fact that adult obesity-related health conditions could cost Minnesota at least an additional $900 million per year by 2010 and $3.7 billion more per year by 2020. This report provides the first Minnesota-specific projections of future health care costs directly attributable to obesity.

"We called the report 'Two Minnesotas' because there are two pictures that can emerge for our state," said Marc Manley, M.D. M.P.H., vice president and medical director for population health at Blue Cross. "In one scenario, obesity trends continue and fuel rising health care costs. In the second scenario, we slow or stop the growth of obesity and save $3.7 billion in health care costs per year. Working together, we can prevent the first scenario from coming true, but we have some significant work to do."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Minnesota ranks 21st out of all the states on the measure of obesity, and Minnesota residents are becoming obese at a rate faster than the rest of the nation. "We can improve that ranking, get Minnesotans in better health and spend less on health care if we focus on prevention and address our patterns of physical inactivity and unhealthy eating," said Minnesota's Commissioner of Health, Sanne Magnan, M.D., Ph.D.

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The report's projections are based on an analysis by Kenneth E. Thorpe, Ph.D., of Emory University, who worked with researchers from Blue Cross, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota State Demographer.

The projections indicate that the consequences for the state's economy will be severe. Left unchecked, nearly 31 percent of the overall increase in health care costs from 2005 to 2020 will be due to projected increases in the numbers of people considered obese and overweight. By 2020, it will cost a projected 61 percent more to treat an obese person than a healthy-weight person. Being overweight or obese puts people at higher risk for conditions like high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes, which impact quality of life, length of life and health care costs.

"The good news is even modest success at curbing the rising rates of obesity could improve residents' health and also decrease the projected burden of health care costs in Minnesota," noted Manley. "Where we could shine as a state and have the biggest impact is if health care professionals, policy makers, community leaders, employers and individuals worked together to create environments where making the healthy choice -- eating a balanced diet and getting regular physical activity -- is the easy choice."

"There's a lot of public awareness around reducing tobacco use, but there's less awareness about the need for increased physical activity and healthy eating," said Magnan. "We're trying to increase awareness of this issue."

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