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Obesity Press Conference
March 23, 2007

Comptroller Susan Combs:
Well, I want to thank all of you for being here. I’m surrounded by my great friends, but unfortunately, I’m here to deliver some bad news. And that bad news is the high cost of obesity to Texas employers. Obesity is absolutely on the rise. Nearly two-thirds of adult Texans, 64.1 percent, are overweight or obese. There were three million more obese adults in Texas in 2005 than there were in 1990, a few short 15 years ago. Now, we’ve got a chart over here by public health administrative region and geographic location does play a role. The highest percentage of obesity is in the valley, Region 11, with about 37.4 percent and then, the lowest is across the West and Central Texas. Texas is number 10 in the entire country, and in the percentage of overweight and obese adults. So, how fat are we, anyway? Well, movie theater seats have expanded from 19 to 23 inches; the space allotted to sit in a church pew has expanded from 18 to 21 inches; and, revolving doors have broadened and widened from six to eight feet. Now, as Comptroller, it is my clear job to be interested in state revenue produced from job creation and retention. And because obesity is on the rise, we conducted a study on the prevalence of obesity and those costs to Texas businesses. I’ve got to tell you, the results are frightening. Look at these trends. There is a growing disparity between normal weight people and obese people in Texas. If the trends continue, as you can see from these graphs, in 2025, 46.8 percent of all adult Texans will be obese and only 14.4 percent will be of a normal weight.

The obesity costs to our Texas businesses was about 3.3 billion dollars in 2005 alone, and that includes several costs; the cost of the healthcare itself; absenteeism; decreased productivity while at work, which is also know as presenteeism; and disability. If the prevalence of obesity continues rising at the rate you see here, obesity could cost our State’s businesses 15.8 billion dollars each and ever year by 2025. Let me break that down for you; accounting for that, you have healthcare is 8.8 billion; absenteeism is 2.1 billion, presenteeism, not being productive while at work, is about 4.5 billion; and disability is 420 million. Now, unfortunately, the epidemic starts early. We’ve got our children here; 42 percent of Texas fourth graders, already, today, are either overweight or at risk for overweight, and that was for the ’04-’05 period. Seventy-five, seventy percent of these overweight children will become overweight or obese adults. Now, by 2025, most of these overweight kids will already be in the workforce as overweight or obese adults. Let me repeat this. If the trends we’re talking about continue, in 2025, 46.8 percent, nearly half of all adult Texans will be obese, and only 14.4 percent of us will be at a normal weight. Employers are already involved in the obesity war whether they realize it or not. Certainly, directly, through paying higher healthcare costs, and indirectly, through lost productivity when their employees are sick, disabled, or not functioning up to their normal work standards. Obesity itself, increases healthcare costs by 36 percent and medication costs by 77 percent. Texas employment based insurance premiums rose by 29.3 percent from 2001 to 2004. If you’re obese, you have an increased risk of costly, chronic illnesses. That could be diabetes, that could be heart disease, stroke, to name just a few. The problem is obviously the prevalence of obesity, and that’s this last graph here. You can see, the top line is going down, and the bottom line is going up, and the top line is normal weight. There’s a 37.1 percent decline in normal weight people. In the same years, however, from 1990 to now, there was 119.5 percent increase in obese, adult Texans. Key thing to understand is that fostering a healthy lifestyle is so much easier and more effective then breaking unhealthy practices. Obesity is avoidable; it is not inevitable, and healthy lifestyle choices must be developed at an early age. What I’ve given you here, is the worst case scenario, but doing nothing—doing nothing is not an option. A healthy workforce is the key to our state’s economy, it’s the key our state’s revenues and it’s the key to our state’s collective economic future. We must work together to encourage healthy lifestyles. We must work to reduce the prevalence of obesity, and we must work very hard to prevent healthy and overweight people from becoming obese. This then, of course, would reduce the obesity associated burden of high healthcare costs on Texas businesses.

Let’s talk about our schools and education wellness. There’s a wonderful bill out there, by my great friend, Senator Jane Nelson, she’ll be chatting to you in a minute, Senate Bill 530. It’s two simple things she wants to do: have more P.E. in public schools with requirements and a physical fitness assessment. Two very simple, but critical things.

And what’s happening in businesses? What are they trying to do when they’ve already got these folks? They’re trying to shift their focus and their healthcare plans. They’re being very, very intelligent and trying to shift from disease treatment to prevention to reduce the future costs from these preventable diseases. And I’m going to keep saying that word “preventable.” The move to prevention will, in fact, reduce costs, because you have fewer diseases, and this is the most cost effective solution. So, we’re of course, helping them to encourage employees to choose healthy lifestyles. Businesses are providing motivation, knowledge and opportunities for their employees to make healthy choices. Some of them are offering financial incentives, some of them are offering lower health insurance deductibles, they may be having company paid gym fees. In our studies, to put this report together, we’ve found there is a 3 to 5 year return on investment for the companies who implement wellness programs which result in lower healthcare costs. In one company’s study, their wellness program saved them $4.30 for every single dollar they spent. One large Texas retailer estimated that its cost for healthcare and said that if the annual increases in the premiums continued at the current rate for 5 years in the future, it would wipe out all of their entire profits for the company, This employer also looked at the most expensive diseases they were dealing with, and found that most of those were caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices.

If we don’t change our ways, this report says what will happen. We need something bigger than baby steps to cause a real change. If our kids today don’t put their feet on the right path, the results will be tragic. And we must start with schools: physical activity, health, nutritious foods. Let me repeat these numbers, and they are staggering. Obesity today, costs Texas businesses an estimated 3.3 billion dollars, and that was two years ago, and it could reach 15.8 billion each year, in 2025, from direct and indirect costs. This is avoidable. It doesn’t have to be inevitable. We, together, with your help, can change this dire, terrifying news.

I want to say a big thank you to everyone who participated in the study. The information you provided us, the research, the interviews were absolutely fantastic and we hope you find this resource valuable to you.

PRESS RELEASE ENDS @ 9:11.5

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