Americans have been becoming increasingly and exponentially obese and overweight since the mid-1980s. While many debate where responsibility for the problem lies, as the gateway to chronic illness such as diabetes and heart disease, it continues to be a driver of costs in both private and public insurance. The problem must be addressed on a number of fronts, from what we serve for lunch in schools and our built environment to more effective community prevention and treatment programs.
To that end, the Department of Health and Human Services has released $373 million in competitive grant funds for local communities to adopt and implement evidence-based policies and programs to improve nutrition, increase physical activity, decrease obesity and decrease tobacco use. According to a press release, these funds are the first of the $650 million for prevention and wellness from ARRA funding.
This newly-created program, “Communities Putting Prevention to Work,” will operate through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where communities and tribes are able to apply for funds to address healthy eating and active living and/or tobacco use among people of all ages and across all community sectors. Businesses that offer healthier alternatives should look to partner with schools and communities and participate in this initiative.
This is a big opportunity for communities and business to work together to attack obesity among both children and adults. These grants can be used to administer programs that could help people reach achievable and measurable weight management goals via healthy school lunch programs, community-administered wellness programs and infrastructure plans such as bike paths or parks. Let’s not forget the National Hearth Lung and Blood Institute research from the late 1990s that showed a weight reduction of as little as 5 to 10 percent leads to significant health improvements. Such outcomes would bring welcome relief to our local economies as well.
One of the largest expenditures in most state and local budgets is health care costs through Medicaid and state or municipal employee health plans. We are paying for obesity as it leads to costly chronic disease. “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” is a chance to help struggling state and local governments trim their costs.