Local view: Hospitals can take the lead on obesity educationDaily news headlines remind us often about the effects of the obesity crisis on the health of our nation. The severity of the crisis is an important call to action; yet without a tangible sense of what the trillions of dollars spent on obesity treatment in our country really mean, it’s easy to remain disengaged from the issue.
By: Jamie Harvie, Duluth News Tribune
Daily news headlines remind us often about the effects of the obesity crisis on the health of our nation. The severity of the crisis is an important call to action; yet without a tangible sense of what the trillions of dollars spent on obesity treatment in our country really mean, it’s easy to remain disengaged from the issue.
These numbers are real: The Journal of Health Economics recently estimated that 20 percent of health-care costs were associated with obesity. Applying the estimated $7,000 annual individual cost of health care for Minnesotans to our region of approximately 100,000 people means that in the Duluth area we spend $140 million annually to treat a condition that is largely preventable.
Without this economic drain, we’d have more money in our pockets, and employers could have more money to spend on wages or capital improvements. This $140 million is about twice the entire city of Duluth’s annual budget and close to twice the cost of the $80 million investment in a new Duluth office tower. It is equivalent to an investment of 2,800 jobs paying $50,000 a year. So, clearly, the economic and social health of our community would benefit from improved individual health. To that end, we are all in this together.
With this shared benefit in mind, a Northland group of physicians, nurses and community members launched a community-driven effort to start an important conversation about the health of our community and to encourage health-care administrators across the Northland and state to model the same healthy-food polices in their hospitals that their clinicians are recommending to their patients.
This effort, called the Commons Health Hospital Challenge, will recognize and promote hospitals that adopt up to three healthy-food environment goals. The first of these goals is adopting the Baby Friendly USA 10 steps to healthy breastfeeding. The second is a 20 percent commitment to local sustainable food sources by 2020. And the third is a phase-out of the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in cafeterias or to patients (though employees would not be restricted in any way from bringing their choice of food or beverages to work).
Each of these goals is consistent with the policies of the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others. Moreover, outside of Minnesota, many hospitals already have accomplished these voluntary goals. Seattle Children’s Hospital, the internationally recognized Cleveland Clinic and Chicago’s Vanguard Health have eliminated sugary beverage sales. Nearly 100 percent of Michigan hospitals are purchasing at least 20 percent local foods. Last year, Vermont-based Fletcher Allen Health Care presented at a Duluth hospital on its purchasing accomplishment of 50 percent local and sustainable. Our Duluth Grill already is near 30 percent local purchases. In Wisconsin, seven hospitals are designated Baby Friendly (compared to two in Minnesota).
We who support the Commons Health Hospital Challenge cannot overemphasize the magnitude of the obesity crisis in communities. It is time to engage in an important conversation about how we as a community can come together to create food choices that are fundamentally healthy. And although the health of our communities is not the sole responsibility of our hospitals, as the Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics shared in its support for the challenge, “Our patients and community look to our health-care institutions as models of healing and wellness.”
If our hospitals do not lead, then how can we expect our businesses and communities to begin the conversation and wrestle with these important community health issues?
Minnesota was a national leader in changing smoking policy, so we know the Northland and the state can be effective leaders on healthy-food environments and create a stronger, more resilient Minnesota.
Jamie Harvie of Duluth is the executive director of the Institute for a Sustainable Future and the founder of Healthy Food in Health Care.