2012-10-26 / Top Stories

Comptroller: Obesity Costs State $12 Billion

Thomas P. DiNapoli Thomas P. DiNapoli New York State is facing a growing obesity problem that costs nearly $12 billion a year, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in a speech on Wednesday to the Association of New York State Youth Bureaus. Di- Napoli urged state leaders and the state Department of Health (DOH) to work together to identify strategies to tackle this problem.

DiNapoli also released a report today on childhood obesity and its growing costs to New York State, coinciding with the second annual National Food Day. Obesity-related expenditures for the state’s 1.4 million overweight and obese children are a comparatively small part of the overall picture at $327 million in 2011. However, when left unaddressed, the long term struggle with being overweight becomes harder to address as teens become adults as demonstrated by the estimated $11.8 billion in state obesity health care costs in 2011.

“Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions, affecting one third of New York’s kids,” DiNapoli said. “It’s taking a toll on their health and on the state’s bottom-line. We cannot afford to ignore this problem, and literally, let it grow. Parents, schools, community based organizations and government officials at all levels must work together to address childhood obesity if we are to reduce the human and fiscal costs for New York.”

New York’s Medicaid program – funded by federal, state and local tax dollars – spends more than $4.3 billion a year as a result of obesity, the Office of the State Comptroller estimates. The costs include obesity-related treatment for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, private health insurance and Medicare pay out an estimated

$7.5 billion more for obesity-related expenditures each year in New York.

Obesity may soon overtake tobacco consumption as America’s leading preventable cause of death, according to DOH. The state’s policy response should be commensurate with that threat, Di- Napoli’s report urged.

During the 1980s and 1990s, nationwide obesity prevalence among children and teens tripled, from around 5 percent to approximately 15 percent. DOH estimates that 17 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through high school were obese during the two school years from 2008 to 2010, while another 15 percent were overweight.

“This sobering report from Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli highlights the human and economic costs to all New Yorkers of the rising epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “In the past 25 years, rates of obesity in New York’s children have more than tripled.

Rates of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and stroke are rising as a result. Comptroller DiNapoli offers wise and well considered recommendations for addressing this urgent crisis. His guidance needs to be heeded by all New Yorkers.”

DOH has taken some steps to address obesity, including a recent marketing campaign encouraging consumers to look for lower-calorie meals in restaurants. The department has proposed a new initiative, to be funded with federal dollars, to provide intensive behavioral counseling for an estimated 5 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries who are obese. If the federal government approves the plan, it would represent the state’s most ambitious effort yet to reduce obesity, but would still leave much of the problem unaddressed.

DiNapoli recommends DOH analyze how its ongoing Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) initiative can more aggressively address the obesity epidemic – “a uniquely broad threat to New Yorkers’ health.”

“MRT is intended to control Medicaid costs while improving health care outcomes,” the report stated. “MRT provides the state with an opportunity to use its $52 billion annual Medicaid budget to drive improvement in the fight against obesity.”

Many policy analysts have argued that the U.S. health care system can be made more cost-efficient through better collection and use of data to identify potential improvements in medical systems and practices.

“Obesity is a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke, the No. 1 and No. 4 killers, respectively, in New York,” said Dr. Suzie Mookherjee, cardiologist at Albany Medical Center and member of the Capital Region Advisory Board of the American Heart Association. “Particularly troubling is the childhood obesity epidemic. Obese children become obese adults and therefore have an increased risk of developing heart disease, which may ultimately shorten their life. The Comptroller’s report is further evidence of the need for the state to take a strong stance to stop this trend and do everything in our power to help New Yorkers improve their health and enjoy their lives.”

State and local authorities may adopt regulatory actions that limit or promote certain behaviors – such as rules requiring restaurants to post nutritional information about their offerings.

“One third of all cancer deaths can be attributed to poor diets, physical inactivity and excess weight.

“We must act now to reduce childhood obesity rates so our kids won’t face a bleak, unhealthy future,” said Alvaro Carrascal, senior vice president of cancer control, American Cancer Society of NY & NJ.

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