Fat America tips scales toward health care crisis
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
July 15, 2008

Fat America tips scales toward health care crisis

Fat America tips scales toward health care crisis
Norman Jameson, BR Editor
July 15, 2008

America is in the midst of a debilitating health care crisis brought on almost entirely by the fact we eat too much and exercise too little.

We are too fat and excess weight causes or contributes to other primary killers.

Sixty-two percent of Americans are overweight or obese, according to giant insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which insures more than one in three North Carolinians. This extra weight costs the country a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity and health care that for the most part could be avoided by making better lifestyle choices, according to those who study the issue.

Obesity is the prime cause of three diseases that haunt both Americans and those in other prosperous countries: heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes.

And the fix is so simple: smaller portions, healthier food choices and a regular walk.

Ninety percent of new diabetes cases are Type 2 diabetes which is caused by eating too much of the wrong food and by exercising too little. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (BCBSNC) says 29 percent of children covered in their plans are currently overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Meanwhile, 59 percent of the parents of those children believe their children’s weight is “about right.”

Why it matters

As personal as your health is, when you suffer ill health as a result of poor choices, its effects wash beyond yourself into your family, church and community. You accomplish less during a shorter, sicker life and pay much higher health costs.

Bible teachers admonishing students against abusing their bodies — the temple of God — by abstaining from sex, alcohol, tobacco and drugs argue against their own position if they are obese or suffer from diseases brought on by poor personal health choices.

“Diabetes and heart disease are on the rise” and unhealthy weight is “an epidemic among our Southern Baptist pastors and staff, said Donna Lively, director of GuideStone’s insurance marketing department.

A fit Carl Johnson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Icard, realized “it is not OK for me not to take care of myself” because it had the potential to disqualify him from ministry.

Some North Carolina Baptist churches are beginning to weigh in with programs that address their congregation’s health. Two professional trainers at Scotts Hill Baptist Church in Wilmington are designing a program for members. Trinity Baptist in Raleigh has sponsored a community fitness run that attracted hundreds.

Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone sponsors an annual bike ride called Tour de Bamboo.

GuideStone, the Southern Baptist retirement and insurance agency, sponsors an annual fitness run at the annual SBC meeting to raise fitness awareness. Nurses at its booth during the annual meeting test hundreds to give them the vital health indicators of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugars.

Lively said several persons have been discovered to be “under stress” and were referred immediately to a doctor.

GuideStone, which insures 60,000 Southern Baptist church staff members, is instituting wellness programs both to help those currently suffering from weight issues and to prevent others from falling into that trap.

Both GuideStone and Blue Cross now offer some preventative and wellness medical coverage that was not covered in recent years, such as annual physicals, and specialized tests on certain schedules, such as colonoscopies after 50.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield originated a program called Blue Points that offers rewards for regular exercise. GuideStone is launching 10,000 Steps, a program to get people walking the equivalent of five miles each day through conscious effort in their regular movement patterns, such as parking in a space distant from the store, taking the steps instead of the elevator and walking at lunchtime.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield says employers who institute wellness programs realize three dollars in benefit for each dollar invested in lowered insurance costs, higher productivity and fewer days lost to illness.

Crossnore School, a residential children’s home near Grandfather Mountain, lowered health insurance premiums by $40,000 annually for its 90 staff members when it instituted a fitness program and hired a nutritionist.

David Hunnicutt, president of the Wellness Councils of America, said, “If people can get 30 to 45 minutes of exercise on most days, the research will show us you can delay the onset of disability by 10 years. Walking may very well be the magic bullet.”

Your insurer may offer nutrition consultation to your church staff or to a community meeting in your facility.

For Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Member Health Partnerships provide customized approaches to address health concerns including chronic disease management, health risk reduction and lifestyle issues. For people diagnosed with obesity issues, the insurer covers up to six nutrition counseling visits a year with its network of licensed, registered dietitians.

Members can access tools such as a lifestyle diary, nutrition booklets and step counters.

At GuideStone, insured with a Body Mass Index greater than 30 can be covered for more regular physical exams and to see a licensed nutritionist.

Nutrition’s role

Research by Blue Cross and Blue Shield found 84 percent of parents report that their children have potato chips or other processed, convenient snacks at least once a day; few were getting five servings of fruits and vegetables daily and none reported their children were active for at least 60 minutes every day, as fitness experts recommend.

Researchers feel there is a “disconnect” between what parents observe and what they conclude. Only 28 percent of parents surveyed felt their children did not get enough physical activity. Of course, a quarter of those parents reported they get no exercise whatsoever.

While 62 percent of BCBSNC adult members are overweight or obese, black members are nearly three times more likely to be out of the recommended weight ranges than white members, researchers said, and almost half of black females covered by BCBSNC are considered to be obese.

A full 23 percent of the state’s adults reported being current smokers.

In its 2007 State of Preventative Health report, Blue Cross and Blue Shield said public health experts believe preventable illnesses make up 60-70 percent of the country’s illness burden. The report said that in North Carolina, more than half of adult deaths could have been delayed with healthier lifestyle choices. Two–thirds of these deaths are attributable to a trio of lifestyle factors: tobacco use, physical activity and poor nutrition.

In this issue and in coming weeks the Biblical Recorder will highlight churches and programs that address this national health care crisis at a local level.