Obesity Weighs Heavy on Wisconsin

By:  Wendy Arnone; President and CEO of UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin

Obesity is tipping the scales as one of Wisconsin’s biggest health problems.

Over the last 20 years in Wisconsin, the percentage of the population that is obese has increased from 11.3 percent to 26 percent.

That is an alarming trend playing out in just about every community across the country. In fact, it’s a trend that has catapulted obesity to one of the top health problems facing our state and our nation. It’s why UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin supports the Green Bay Boys & Girls Club in its effort to promote healthy diets and healthy living to members of our local youth community.

According to the 20th Annual America’s Health Rankingsreleased a few months ago, obesity has increased nearly 130 percent since the rankings were first issued. A growing 27 percent of the U.S. population is now considered obese. Wisconsin now ranks 23rd among all states in obesity.

If current trends continue, nearly 42.4 percent of Wisconsin’s population will be obese within the next decade, costing our state a projected $6.78 billion – or $1,523 per adult – in state health care spending. Most of that spending comes from obesity-related health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

That’s why there is a growing consensus that tackling our obesity epidemic is a critical element of reducing the rates of chronic disease and reining in rising health-care costs.

We have to do more in Wisconsin to reduce the prevalence of obesity in our communities. And while it’s important to provide programs and resources for adults, it’s even more critical to focus on breaking the cycle among our youth, a demographic in which the rates of obesity have more than doubled in the last three decades.

Through the UnitedHealth HEROES grant program (a partnership between UnitedHealthcare and the nonprofit Youth Service America), young people, working through educators and youth leaders, are encouraged to create and implement local hands-on programs to address the issue of childhood obesity. UnitedHealthcare of Wisconsin recently awarded $1,000 in grants to the Boys and Girls Club of Green Bay to support programs that fight childhood obesity. The grants are supporting the Teen Feed project, which pairs local teens with college nutrition students to prepare healthy snacks for club members after school.

Research has shown that young people who participate in service-learning programs improve their academic performance and critical-thinking skills, increase their confidence and sense of potential, and accept leadership roles. Such programs are a crucial part of the solution to the serious dangers posed by our growing waistlines.

Overweight adolescents have a 70-percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. And overweight children and adolescents are far more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. Experts increasingly agree we must intervene early in life, if we are to reverse the trend in obesity rates in our country.

We should commend organizations like the Boys & Girls Club and the young people in our area who are already making a difference, and join them in taking action on this important issue. Our physical health as a community, and our fiscal health as a nation, depends on it.

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