How much is that Twix?

What does it cost us to be a society that choose unwisely for health options? How much does it really cost us to have a candy bar, say, a Twix? It’s gone up to $1 for a candy bar now (outrageous to chocolate junkies). Do we really know the costs? We do, in fact California funded a statewide study regarding health care costs related to obesity and the overweight status of many of its residents. They published it once in  2000 and recommissioned the same firm to repeat the study in 2010. The findings are astounding, but after all it’s California not here (unless you are reading this in California).  That shouldn’t diminish the meaning of the study.  Tha California study showed that the total annual estimated cost to California for overweight, obesity and physical inactivity was $41.2 billion – $21.0 billion for overweight and obesity, and $20.2 billion for physical inactivity.  Health care costs totaled $20.7 billion and lost productivity costs reached $20.4 billion. Health care costs associated with overweight and obesity were $12.8 billion while health care costs associated with physical inactivity totaled $7.9 billion.  Finally, lost productivity costs associated with overweight and obesity were $8.2 billion, and lost productivity costs associated with physical inactivity were $12.3 billion. Those numbers are shocking and I’m sure that a few readers are thinking “well California has more people than my state” or “those left coasters are very different from people in my state.” And I would respond by saying “not true.” The numbers might be different but the ratios are the same….everywhere, and so the conclusions are similar. I would say that in conclusion the numbers show us that whatever our states actual costs for what we have to pay for being out of shape is, in a word, universally unacceptable. (yup, that’s two words).

The study also makes several recommendations which are great ideas and should be enacted by communities across the country regardless of the state.  To reduce the economic burden associated with an overweight, obese and physically  inactive population, policies must be established at all levels to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Period.

  • Nationally public health and prevention must be core elements of national health care reform.
  • Statewide health and human service agencies that influence environments where people live, work, learn and play must promote health through their policy and funding decisions.
  • At the city and county level, local policies must be established to ensure that communities are places where residents can easily make healthy eating and activity choices.

I would add in a few additional suggestions:

  • Create convenient and safe opportunities for physical activity for all residents including bike paths, walking/running trails with lighting and safe from traffic. People must feel that they have access to better choices and those choices must be attractive to utilize.
  • Speaking of incentive, how about a tax incentive for companies to provide health club membership or corporate fitness programs for employees? How about a tax incentive for using trails, parks and recreational facility membership?
  • Enhance parks with play equipment including pools, playgrounds and fitness stations.
  • Provide funding for fitness leaders to develop programs at local parks to attract local residents to participate in activities as well as assisting in park up keep and maintenance. Local residents, who use the facilities, have no problem assisting with maintaining the facility because they see a value in it for themselves and their families.
  • Planning commissions should consider future development to locate residential, commercial and office buildings close together so more residents can walk and bike to meet their daily needs
  • Provide safe and convenient opportunities to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables by ensuring that sources of healthy foods are accessible in all neighborhoods.
  • Providing subsidized areas where local farms can sell their produce, like Madison Wisconsin is doing with its Farmer’s Market. But we should go one better, we should establish a year-round permanent structure for this program and there should be a market in every community for ease of access
  • To continue to provide healthy sources of produce, communities should preserve regional agriculture and farmland
  • Communities should protect existing community gardens and support the creation of new ones as a source of fresh produce in under-served neighborhoods.
  • But more; we should create a program that allows schools to develop farm plots for their own consumption. Kids would learn things from earth science to retail business practices and everything in between.  Not to mention that the investment in space attached to the school also makes the space valuable to local residents and care for the space and surrounding area value would increase and healthy food would be provided to students.

There are so many benefits to developing these types of programs. We would see overall health of communities increase, community pride would increase, crime would decrease too. Less traffic would provide cleaner air and thus higher quality environment. that would in turn make it more attractive to incoming business which would  increase the tax base and provide fiscal health to the local communities as well.  Schools would see higher test results, school pride, and involvement by more students in school extra curriculars. Diversity and tolerance would increase because children would be working together.  School grounds would become places that children are proud of again, and thus vandalism and crime around the area would decrease. Families would see more money in their pockets because of less fuel used and less money spent on health care. They would see better behaved children because those kids have a physical outlet. There would be more opportunity for quality family time: instead of TV time there would be families playing in the parks. Neighbors would know more neighbors and so crime would decrease because friends watch out for friends. And lastly, people would be happier.

There are of course road blocks to this happening. The food landscape is not so cut and dry; fast food franchises would have to want us to choose “healthy” over “easy”. TV stations would have to want us to not stay put on the couch and instead go to the park. Oil and car companies would never be happier than if every bicycle manufacturer suddenly disappeared. And schools would have to stop getting money from fast food and soda companies to operate. Doctors would have to make less money on treatment of disease and more on preventing it. In a society like ours, money is the motivator for many of our decisions. Money affects our sedentary lifestyle choices. So how much does that Twix cost? Reread this post and focus on the expenses in the opening paragraph, also imagine the opposite of everything I stated in the suggestions bullet points. How much does that Twix cost? All that plus an outrageous $1 for the candy.


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