Health & Safety

At least one in five people is obese in every U.S. state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Latest data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System show that obesity prevalence ranged from 20.7 percent in Colorado to a high of 34.9 percent in Mississippi in 2011. No state had a prevalence of obesity less than 20%.

Some 39 states had a prevalence of 25 percent or more and 12 of these states had a prevalence of 30 percent or more: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and West Virginia.

The South had the highest prevalence of obesity (29.5 percent), followed by the Midwest (29.0 percent), the Northeast (25.3 percent) and the West (24.3 percent).

Here’s the newly released CDC map showing obesity prevalence in each state in 2011:

Note: due to a new baseline established in 2011 for state obesity rates, the CDC cautions that estimates of obesity prevalence from 2011 forward cannot be compared to estimates from previous years.

A USA Today article notes that the CDC map is based on data in which people self-report their height and weight:

Because people tend to underreport their weight, the percentage of people who are obese is probably higher than the statistics indicate.”

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) put the annual cost of treating obesity-related illness at $190.2 billion and said there was an urgent need to strengthen prevention efforts in the U.S.

Obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States, triple the rate from one generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

So the announcement by Walt Disney Co last week that it is banning junk food advertising on its television and radio programs for kids is a welcome move.

Disney’s new standards will apply to all food and beverage products advertised, sponsored, or promoted on Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney and Disney-owned online destinations targeting families with younger children.

The nutrition guidelines are aligned to federal standards, promote fruit and vegetable consumption and call for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Though the rules won’t take effect until 2015, as a parent you have to applaud this effort.

First Lady Michelle Obama described the new initiative as a “game changer” for the health of our children, saying:

This is a major American company – a global brand – that is literally changing the way it does business so that our kids can lead healthier lives. With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the U.S. – and what I hope every company will do going forward. When it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell, they are asking themselves one simple question: “Is this good for our kids?”

A recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) noted that 87 percent of food and beverage commercials seen by children ages 6-11 on TV advertise foods high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium. Meanwhile, older children and adolescents consume more than 7.5 hours of media each day.

In an earlier report Obesity, Liability and Insurance the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) flagged the potential liability risk facing food manufacturers, advertising agencies and ingredient manufacturers to name a few from obesity-related tort actions.

We note that Ferrero, the manufacturers of Nutella recently agreed to pay $3 million to settle a class action lawsuit over misleading advertising that claimed the chocolate-hazelnut spread was healthy.

And orange juice maker Tropicana is facing lawsuits over labeling its juice as “all natural” amid allegations that the company adds chemically engineered flavoring to its product.

Since the causes of obesity and overweight are varied and complex, it would be naïve to think that one company’s actions could solve the obesity epidemic.

However, given that media is embedded in our culture and the most frequently marketed foods and beverages are higher in added fats and sugars, any move to make the ads our children see more nutritious at the least will have a positive influence.

The IOM report put the annual cost of obesity-related illness in the U.S. at $190.2 billion. By comparison, the potential cost to Disney is a mere fraction of this amount.

Many dog owners do not consider the possibility that their friendly Fido could bite a friend, relative, or even a stranger. But dog bites do happen and irresponsible dog owners endanger others and their assets, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)

For example, State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the U.S., paid out more than $109 million as a result of its nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011.

The I.I.I. reports that dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2011, costing nearly $479 million.

An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that the average cost paid out to dog bite claims was $29,396 in 2011, up 12.3 percent from $26,166 in 2010. In fact, from 2003 to 2011, the cost of the average dog bite claim increased by 53.4 percent.

These increases can be attributed to higher medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which have risen well above the rate of inflation in recent years, according to the I.I.I.

Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide policyholders with anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in dog bite liability coverage. If the claim exceeds those limits, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal expenses.

Most insurers will cover homeowners with dogs. However, once a dog has bitten someone, your insurance company may charge a higher premium or exclude the dog from coverage.

Of course, the best way to protect yourself is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place.

Check out this I.I.I. video for tips on preventing dog bites:

Next week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week so now is a good time to review tips on how to be a responsible dog owner.

A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has much to say on the obesity epidemic in the United States and the urgent need to strengthen prevention efforts.

“Left unchecked, obesity’s effects on health, health care costs, and our productivity as a nation could become catastrophic,” the report said.

This infographic sums up the IOM’s key findings:

Earlier research from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) found that insurers and reinsurers are just one of many industries affected by the obesity issue.


How would you feel about conducting a business meeting while walking on a treadmill?

According to an article in the New York Times Sunday Business, “walking meetings” are becoming more common as companies look to keep their employees active and healthy during the work day.

Sitting for long periods is hazardous to your health, increasing the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers.

While many employers already offer on-site gyms, or subsidized gym memberships, the NYT reports:

Now some employers are going a step further by aligning the ‘move while you work’ mandate with the corporate culture. They hope to improve their employees’ health and to lower medical costs in the process.”

The idea of taking shorter exercise breaks during the work day is not only practical but also effective.

The NYT cites a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic in 2007 that monitored the activities of 18 employees over a six month period. The employees were given access to treadmill desks and wireless headsets to promote walking while conducting meetings.

The study found the employees as a group lost more than 150 pounds and lowered their cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

You may be laughing, as many of the employees did when exercise was first introduced into their work day, but for those quoted in the NYT it appears the changes have led to better health and more energy at work.

Check out I.I.I. information on health insurance.

As the Lady Gagas and Harry Potters come out Monday night, your standard auto and homeowners policies should have you covered in case you receive more tricks than treats.

The I.I.I. gives several examples of how insurance can protect you from Halloween-related losses. For instance, if your home is damaged in a Halloween prank your homeowners or renters policy provides coverage for vandalism, after the deductible is met.

Similarly, if your car is damaged by mischievous trick-or-treaters, there is coverage under the optional comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy.

If you expect to be handing out candy or throwing a Halloween party, again you would be covered if a trick-or-treater or guest is accidentally injured in your house or apartment, the I.I.I. says. The liability portion of your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers you in the event you are sued by the injured party.

While it’s reassuring to have these insurance policies in place, it’s also important to follow some basic safety steps, such as:

- Ensure there’s a clear path to your front door by removing all objects that could cause children to trip or fall.

- Turn your outside lights on if you welcome trick-or-treaters.

- Take caution when using candles, jack-o-lanterns, matches and lighters and keep them out of reach of children and away from flammable materials.

- Have a plan for your pet especially if they are easily spooked by guests or doorbells.

- Motorists need to be extra cautious and watch for children, especially after dark.

Once again food safety is in the news. This time it’s cantaloupe.

The current outbreak of listeria infection linked to cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms in Colorado, so far has caused at least 13 deaths and left 72 people ill.

According to reports, this makes it the deadliest foodborne outbreak in the United States in more than a decade. And the number of illnesses and deaths are expected to rise, officials say.

It comes just months after a deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier issued a press release announcing that Jensen Farms issued a voluntary recall of its Rocky Ford-brand cantaloupes after being linked to a multi-state outbreak of listeriosis.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, each year roughly one in six Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.

CDC also notes that some 3 or 4 outbreaks of listeria-associated foodborne illness are diagnosed each year in the U.S. The foods that typically cause these outbreaks have been deli meats, hot dogs, and Mexican-style soft cheeses made with unpasteurized milk.

Produce is not often identified as a source, but sprouts caused an outbreak in 2009 and celery caused an outbreak in 2010.

Listeria, along with other pathogens such as salmonella, toxoplasma, and norovirus are the leading cause of foodborne deaths, according to CDC statistics (see chart via CDC website below).

Meanwhile, check out this Q+A at Businessweek about listeria in fruit.

A report from Aon last year noted that the increasing frequency and severity of food contamination incidents is prompting greater awareness among food system, agribusiness and beverage companies to insure against such events.


As mom to a 14-month old, Thursday’s New York Times article questioning whether a playground can be too safe made for a compelling read.

The article charts the transformation of playgrounds from places of adventure – think seesaws, tall slides and merry-go-rounds – to today’s  safety-first playgrounds.

According to the NYT, some researchers are questioning the value of safety-first playgrounds, even if children suffer fewer injuries.

The NYT reports:

“Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries – and the evidence for that is debatable – the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.”

The NYT cites one researcher who after observing children on the playgrounds in Norway, England and Australia, identified six categories of risky play: exploring heights, experiencing high speed, handling dangerous tools, being near dangerous elements (like water or fire), rough and tumble play, and wandering alone away from adult supervision.

Apparently, the most common was climbing heights.

The gist of the NYT piece (the original article is published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology) is that by gradually exposing themselves to more hazards in the  playground, children develop the techniques needed to master their fears and phobias over the longer-term.

Something worth bearing in mind as we encounter the challenges of  raising children.

Perhaps the most important takeaway, from a risk management standpoint, in the NYT article is that the threat of litigation caused the removal of slides and seesaws from New York City  playgrounds.

Check out I.I.I. facts and stats on recreation.

With stories about the E. coli outbreak in Europe dominating the news, this is a good time to reflect on food safety and contamination risks.

The New York Times reports that the cause of the outbreak of a rare strain of E. coli known as 0104:H4 may have been sprouts grown on a farm in Germany.

What is being described as one of the most catastrophic food-borne illnesses in years, so far has left 22 dead and 2,153 people ill, more than 600 of them in intensive care, according to the NYT article.

Here in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing regular updates and monitoring the ongoing outbreak in Germany.

Meanwhile, TIME’s Ecocentric blog ponders the question of whether we’d do any better if a similar major foodborne illness outbreak occurred in the U.S. given passage of the landmark Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) last year.

It notes that America has struggled to control recent problems with contaminated food, including salmonella outbreaks that led to the recall of half a billion eggs last year.

Not until the passage of the Food Safety Bill did the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have the ability to order a mandatory recall of contaminated food, it says.

Ecocentric also notes that the cost of foodborne illness in the U.S. is severe, with 48 million people becoming ill annually and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.

According to a report from Aon published last year (and discussed in a blog post here), the increasing frequency and severity of food recalls is prompting greater awareness among food system, agribusiness and beverage companies to insure against such events.

As well as insurance, Aon said pre-event planning and crisis management planning were among the best strategies to improve an organization’s chances of recovery from a major contamination or recall incident.

The health risks associated with silicosis have been well documented since the early 20th century, so it’s with interest that we read that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will soon propose a comprehensive silica health standard.

A report in Occupational Health and Safety Magazine cites OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels telling attendees at the recent American Industrial Hygiene conference that the proposal will be issued in the next few months.

According to OSHA, crystalline silica exposure remains a serious threat to nearly 2 million U.S. workers, including more than 100,000 workers in high risk jobs such as abrasive blasting, foundry work, stonecutting, rock drilling, quarry work and tunneling.

OSHA states:

Crystalline silica has been classified as a human lung carcinogen. Additionally, breathing crystalline silica dust can cause silicosis, which in severe cases can be disabling, or even fatal.”

In the early years of the 21st century, a sharp increase in silica injury claims led many to question whether silica was the next asbestos.

However, in a 2009 report RAND observed that the litigation collapsed soon after the discovery of numerous abuses in the procedures used to diagnose injuries.

This spurred the introduction of medical criteria to determine the validity of claims as well as legal reforms in a number of states.

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