Reforms unlikely to defeat obesity

Thu Jan 22, 2009 8:26am EST
 
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By Debra Sherman - Analysis

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Even as the Obama administration recognizes obesity as one of the nation's top health threats, any efforts to reform the U.S. healthcare system will likely not go far enough to combat the condition.

"Obesity is one of many competing demands placed on the healthcare system. It has got our attention, but there just aren't great ideas about what to do about it," said Eric Finkelstein, a health economist at RTI International and author of "The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat."

"It's individual behavioral changes that are needed and that's difficult to deal with on a federal level," he said.

Two-thirds of adults and almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese.

While there is a consensus on the need for reform, combating obesity will be tough because the problem is so complex and treatments are not very effective.

President Barack Obama and Tom Daschle, his pick for health secretary, have both stressed that the new system must focus on prevention as a way both to improve health and save money.

But the leading proposals likely to come forward in Congress maintain the existing insurance model, which does not encourage prevention.

"Offering government subsidies to employers for insurance does not promote preventative health programs because people switch jobs and change insurance. It's a bad model," Finkelstein said.   Continued...