Foreseeing a fat future

The obesity epidemic is still a massive theat to Minnesota.

Last November, a new study found that obesity rates in the United States may be leveling off. For the first time in 25 years, the United States did not see an increase in obesity rates. But there is little cause for celebration. A new report done by the Minnesota Department of Health determined that obesity could cost the state an additional $3.7 billion per year by 2020.

This number should be of great concern to Minnesotans. Currently the state operates on a biennial budget of about $35 billion, so the increases predicted by the study are significant, to say the least. Even more frightening was the report’s conclusion that fewer than 25 percent of Minnesotans will be at a healthy weight in 2020. This is certainly not the direction we want to be heading.

Of course real concern about such a surge in unhealthy Minnesotans is the impact on our state’s health care. Will providers be able to keep up with the increased need? And will health insurance premiums soar for all users as a result of increased diabetes and heart disease? These are the realities that need to be addressed in the near future.

The most difficult aspect of the obesity epidemic is how to slow and stop people from living unhealthily. So much of this relies on individual choice, but as the Department of Health study suggests, those individual choices can impact the lives of all citizens. Without the government becoming overly involved and legislating our eating habits and behavior, we need to find ways to encourage activity and smart food choices. There isn’t one simple solution, and it will take a variety of little solutions to make a difference. We may even need to change the way we think about designing communities, and start to build developments that encourage walking.

There is no easy way to deal with such a widespread problem as obesity, but something must be done. If we don’t find effective ways to combat obesity, the quality of life for all Minnesotans will decline.