Attacking the National Obesity Problem, Community by Community

An important development took place today in the war against obesity, one of the nation’s most significant healthcare challenges.  At the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., the Conference joined with Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff to announce a new Healthy Communities Grant Program that will commit tangible resources to improving the health of at-risk populations.

There is no questioning the link between obesity and significant health problems.  A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued last fall included projections that, by 2030, every state in the union will see at least 44 percent of its citizens classified as obese, with 13 states hitting obesity rates over 60 percent.  The report also projected this obesity epidemic will result in diabetes rates increasing from the current 1.9 million new cases per year to almost eight million new cases annually.  Heart disease and stroke will see similar escalations.

That’s what makes today’s announcement by the mayors and Weight Watchers, a Healthcare Leadership Council member, so significant.

In three cities, particularly in low-income areas with higher-than-normal risks of obesity, pilot initiatives will be launched to bolster their current wellness programs with steeply discounted Weight Watchers memberships for local residents who quality based on health status and financial need.  The key here is that Weight Watchers programs have a track record of proven effectiveness in helping people not only lose weight but, more importantly, manage their weight through healthy eating and lifestyles.

As Kirchhoff said, “If we do nothing, by 2030, estimates predict roughly half of all U.S. men and women will be obese.  We need to act now with solutions that are proven to be effective.  Collaborating with the U.S. Conference of Mayors on this initiative is part of our commitment to form unique relationships with mayors to tackle obesity with community-based solutions.  Through this effort, we can provide Weight Watchers’ proven approach to weight loss to individuals who otherwise would not be able to afford our program.”

At HLC, we’ve seen on programs from Medicare drug coverage to linking uninsured people with health coverage resources that community-based approaches provide the greatest opportunity for success.  For the sake of our nation’s health, let’s hope the Conference of Mayors-Weight Watchers alliance yields significant gains in weight loss and healthy lifestyles.  Maintaining a sustainable, affordable healthcare system depends on reducing the factors, including obesity, that lead to serious, and expensive, chronic diseases.