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July, 31st 2009

Another big problem re: health care reform efforts

– Liz Mair

No pun intended... Congress apparently has little interest in doing anything in health care legislation to deal with the problem of obesity:

Supposedly preoccupied with costs and how to reduce them, the various committees involved in producing health care legislation have all but ignored the, well, husky animal in the room: fat people.

With an epidemic of obesity enlarging the country, Congress — like many Americans blithely ignoring the gradual tightening of their waistbands — is in denial.

Why?

The answer, by some accounts, is astoundingly simple: No one wants to tell Americans the bad news.

“The inability we have to address this issue head-on is because we’re uncomfortable with the reason people are overweight,” said Christine Ferguson, professor of health policy at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. “We haven’t come to grips with whether it is their own fault or a combination of factors.”

Just this week, a study in the journal Health Affairs reported that medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for someone who’s obese than for someone who’s not. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention convened its inaugural conference on obesity in Washington within a healthy walk of the Capitol and produced a barrage of graphs, studies and scary statistics all showing that Americas are getting fatter faster and are causing diseases that cost an estimated $147 billion last year, nearly 10 percent of all medical spending in the country.

Still, drafts of House and Senate bills include only a handful of programs specifically targeted at fighting obesity. And the Congressional Budget Office does not consider the programs a cost saving — though that’s what their ultimate goal is — a bit of accounting that further diminishes political will.


The 5-foot-4 New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler opted for gastric bypass surgery after weighing in at 338 pounds. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has admitted that a laparoscopic duodenal switch procedure helped the 5-foot-9 Illinois Democrat drop almost 80 pounds from his 262-pound frame. And the pudgy, outspoken Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank dropped 100 pounds on a crash diet while working as a special assistant for former Boston Mayor Kevin White in the late 1960s. Today, he frequently jokes about his struggle to lose weight.

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