How do poor health and nutrition (and its outcomes, such as obesity and diabetes) impact our local economies and workforces?
Obesity, preventable diabetes, and other chronic conditions are all costly diseases that can stem from poor health and nutrition. Obesity has been linked to an increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer. These conditions account for as much as $209.7 billion a year in U.S. medical expenditures, or 20.6 percent of all money spent on healthcare in the United States.
In addition to the healthcare costs that local economies must absorb, obesity-related conditions have indirect costs, such as decreasing worker productivity. The institution of public health strategies aimed at preventing obesity and other chronic diseases can help to reverse the negative health impacts that can reduce life expectancy, the quality of life, and the economy as a whole.
How important will improving Californians’ health be to the future of the state?
Improving health and wellbeing is critical, but often overlooked. If the state can achieve a modest reduction in the prevalence of obesity and increase Californians’ physical activity by just 5 percent a year, the savings achieved would be approximately $2.4 billion annually.
In order to achieve these savings and improve Californians’ health, we need to invest in a variety of public health measures designed to promote healthy eating and physical activity. For example, there are many disadvantaged neighborhoods where there is limited access to healthful foods and safe recreation. Opening markets, parks, and even community gardens in these neighborhoods can have lasting positive health impacts and lead to improved health outcomes.
What needs to change to improve the societal burdens incurred from these conditions?
Current trends in preventable illness and disease are leading to reduced life expectancy and poor quality of life. Our current healthcare system has been built on the treatment of illness and disease and we need a paradigm shift that will focus on the promotion of health and wellness. To achieve this goal, more must be invested in public health campaigns that protect people’s health, as well as guard against the impacts of massive market saturation of unhealthful products. For federal healthcare reform to succeed in building healthier communities, health promotion and illness prevention is key.
How does your proposed soda tax fit into this?
Senate Bill 622, a proposed tax on sugary drinks, is not a cure-all, but it can be a valuable tool in a broader public health campaign. The evidence is conclusive—sugary drinks are the leading contributor of increased caloric intake among children. Current consumption trends have been documented as a leading cause in childhood obesity and preventable chronic diseases. By taxing these harmful products it is anticipated there would be a reduction in product consumption, similar to what has been achieved through the implementation of increased taxes on tobacco. The proposed sugar-sweetened beverage tax would generate an estimated $1.7 billion a year that would be directed exclusively to combat childhood obesity by providing financial resources to local schools and community-based programs to promote physical education, nutrition and wellness programs.