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Letter from Susan Combs



March 23, 2007

A healthy work force is critical to our state’s economy and its ability to compete globally. As Comptroller, I am committed to ensuring Texas has a healthy workforce and to reducing the burden of high health care costs on Texas’ businesses.

This report, Counting Costs and Calories, illustrates just how severe the costs of obesity are for employers. In 2005, obesity cost Texas businesses an estimated $3.3 billion. This includes the direct costs for health care and the related indirect costs of employee absenteeism, lost productivity and disability.

Employers have long been aware of the disastrous effects of smoking on employee health care costs. Media attention, research, legislation and public education efforts during the last decade have helped reverse this trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control, smoking in Texas has declined from 23.7 percent of the population in 1995 to 20.0 percent in 2005.

Unfortunately, the health risks, prevalence trends and costs for overweight and obese employees far exceed those for tobacco use.

Nearly two-thirds (64.1 percent) of adult Texans are overweight or obese. This prevalence is increasing at an alarming rate—rising 49.4 percent since 1990. Employers are enmeshed in this issue, and not by choice, because businesses bear the majority of the costs associated with obesity. If this trend continues unchecked, the cost to employers could reach $15.8 billion by 2025.

I applaud the bold initiatives the Legislature is considering—more physical education in our public schools along with a physical health assessment that will serve to improve the health of our children, the work force of tomorrow. Already, almost all school districts have removed unhealthy foods with minimal nutritional value from cafeterias, and many districts are removing them from vending machines as well. These are steps in the right direction.

We also need to track more accurately overweight and obesity in children and adults through improved health claim data or medical records so we can appropriately target health education and accurately assess our progress in reducing the epidemic.

But to stem the tide of the obesity epidemic, all stakeholders—employers, parents, schools, the medical community and government—must work together to do whatever they can to encourage healthier lifestyles, reduce the prevalence of obesity and prevent healthy and overweight people from becoming obese. Ultimately, we must become a society focused on preventing obesity, rather than treating the diseases it causes.

Sincerely,

Susan Combs

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