Category Archives: Health & Safety

Obesity: Rising Prevalence

The obesity epidemic among adults in the United States continues to rise. Latest data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System show that an estimated 25.6 percent of U.S. adults reported being obese in 2007, an increase of 1.7 percent from 23.9 percent in 2005. Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee lead the way with all three states reporting an obesity prevalence of above 30 percent. Colorado had the lowest obesity prevalence at 18.7 percent. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above. BMI is calculated using height and weight. By region, the report also finds that obesity is more prominent in the South, where 27 percent of respondents were classified as obese, compared with 25.3 percent in the Midwest, 23.3 percent in the Northeast, and 22.1 percent in the West. Check out I.I.I. information on obesity liability.

July 4 Tips

Tomorrow is Independence Day and as our regular readers know this is the time of year when us Brits living in America generally head for the hills. For the record, the Census Bureau puts the dollar value of trade last year between the United States and the United Kingdom at $107.2 billion, making the nation’s adversary in 1776 its sixth-leading trading partner today. For those of you planning on enjoying picnics, parades, concerts and fireworks, the I.I.I. has some useful tips to help make your holiday weekend even more pleasurable. Check out I.I.I. car rental insurance and  grilling safety tips for more information. Have a happy and safe holiday!  

‘Invisible Wounds of War’

Is the title of a new RAND report that estimates nearly one in five military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment. Researchers also found about 19 percent of returning service members report experiencing a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed, with 7 percent reporting both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression. In what RAND describes as a “major health crisis†, researchers estimate that PTSD and depression among returning service members will cost the nation up to $6.2 billion in the two years following deployment, including both direct medical care and costs for lost productivity and suicide. Injured veterans returning from war present unique challenges for insurers as I.I.I. president Dr. Robert Hartwig outlined in a January 2006 report: When Johnny Comes Marching Home.  

The Nature of Obesity

It’s proving to be quite a week for obesity news headlines. First there was the news out of Mississippi of proposed legislation that would make it illegal for restaurants to serve obese customers. For more on that nugget, we suggest taking a look at the commentary from fellow insurance bloggers over at InsureBlog. Then today, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition finds that a child’s risk of becoming overweight is down to nature, rather than nurture. Researchers analyzed the Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference in a U.K. sample of 5,092 pairs of twins aged 8 to 11 years old. Their findings indicate that the variation in both BMI and waist circumference, was 77 percent attributable to genes, and just 23 percent to environmental factors. The idea that genetic influence is such a strong factor in childhood obesity means that targeting the family may be vital for obesity prevention in the earliest years, the researchers conclude. They go on to note the importance over the longer-term of society-wide efforts to modify the environment, especially for children at high genetic risk. Check out further I.I.I. information on obesity risk.  

Health and Wellness

We’ve posted before about the growing investment companies are making in the health and productivity of their workforce. The shifting focus on wellness and prevention rather than just health coverage is noted in MetLife’s Fifth Annual Employee Benefits Trend Study. According to its findings, more than one-fourth (28 percent) of all employers and nearly half (49 percent) of companies with 500 or more employees offer some type of a wellness program as a workplace benefit. The study also reveals that 17 percent of employers offer health insurance credits for employees following wellness guidelines such as exercise, nutrition, check-ups, and disease screenings. Nearly one-third of employers with 500 or more employees (31 percent) are offering these wellness credits – up from 25 percent a year before. But there is a flip side. While employers increasingly are offering employees financial incentives to encourage them to monitor their health, there can be penalties if they don’t. According to MetLife, one-in-10 employers (9 percent) and one-in-five (19 percent) of employers with 500 or more employees say they impose financial penalties on employees for not following wellness guidelines. It’s a two-way street.  

Wellness Benefits

The need for workers to have access to a workplace wellness program has been touted as an essential component in the drive to combat obesity. The 2007/2008 Staying@Work survey released last week by Watson Wyatt indicates that employers are listening. According to its findings, nearly half (46 percent) of employers surveyed currently offer financial incentives to encourage workers to monitor and improve their health or plan to offer incentives next year and by 2009 that number is expected to surpass 70 percent. The survey also found that a healthier workforce makes for a healthier company. Companies with effective health and productivity programs demonstrate superior performance, achieving 20 percent more revenue per employee. They also have 16.1 percent higher market value and deliver 57 percent higher shareholder returns (2004 to 2006 data). Those companies that invest in improving the health and productivity of their workforce also have cost increases that are five times lower for sick leave; four and one-half times lower for long-term disability; four times lower for short-term disability; and three and one-half times lower for general health coverage. Check out further I.I.I. information on obesity and workers comp.

Happy Halloween

The extension of daylight savings time means that it will get dark later this Halloween, helping to make for a safer holiday. Still, parents need to keep in mind steps to minimize the risks as their kids go trick-or-treating. I.I.I. advises parents to accompany small children around the neighborhood and to make sure children old enough to explore the neighborhood on their own visit homes where they know they’ll be welcome. Once darkness does fall a well-lit porch is a signal that kids are welcome. Motorists need to remember that kids may be distracted by all the costumes and candy. Parents should also warn children to stay on the sidewalks and to cross the streets carefully. Reflective tape on costumes and trick-or-treat bags is a good idea, as is arranging for youngsters to go out in groups rather than alone. Further I.I.I. safety tips include: make sure costumes fit properly as loose-fitting costumes can cause a child to trip and fall; use make-up instead of masks as some masks can obstruct vision; make sure all costumes are made of non-flammable materials; keep lighted jack-o’-lanterns and candles away from children and flammable materials; inspect all treats before allowing children to eat them. Have a safe and happy Halloween!  

Psychological Impact of Wildfires

As California residents displaced by  last week’s  wildfires begin the recovery process a reissued RAND study is a reminder of the potential impact of the event on their mental health. The study, conducted after the October 2003 California firestorm, surveyed 357 people who sought assistance from the American Red Cross and government relief centers. Within days of the mandatory evacuation participants completed baseline self-administered questionnaires assessing demographic characteristics, initial subjective reactions and degree of fire exposure. A follow-up mail-in survey three months later measured symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. The results found that 33 percent showed evidence of probable major depression, while 24 percent exhibited probable PTSD. Check out latest I.I.I. information on the wildfires.  

Obesity Update

Evidence of the growing economic and social costs of obesity continues to dominate the news. Research by Emory University published in the journal Health Affairs reveals that Americans are nearly twice as likely as Europeans to be obese. Apparently while 17.1 percent of European adults are obese, the rate is 33.1 percent for U.S. adults. Older U.S. adults are also more likely than their European counterparts to be diagnosed with costly chronic diseases and to be treated for those diseases, adding about $100 billion to $150 billion per year to the U.S. health care tab, according to the study. Interesting stat: Emory professors believe the U.S. could save $100 billion a year if it could bring its obesity rates more in line with Europe. Point to bear in mind: explanations for the TransAtlantic differences in disease prevalence remain varied. While  it’s possible Americans are actually sicker than Europeans, it’s also possible that more aggressive diagnosis and pretreatment of chronic diseases in this country raises disease prevalence rates, researchers say. Meanwhile, another  study of 663 patients with HIV at Navy hospitals in San Diego and Bethesda, Maryland, found that 63 percent of them were overweight or obese, while only 3 percent were underweight.  Check out further information from the I.I.I. on obesity.

Obesity Epidemic

A report just published by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) confirms the continuing alarming rise in adult obesity rates across the U.S. According to its findings, rates of adult obesity now exceed 25 percent in 19 states, an increase from 14 states last year and nine in 2005. Mississippi – at 30.6 percent – topped the list with the highest rate of adult obesity in the country for the third year in a row. Ten of the 15 states with the highest rates of adult obesity are located in the South. Even Colorado (the leanest state again this year) recorded an increase in its adult obesity rate over the past year from 16.9 to 17.6 percent. Of even more interest, a new public opinion survey within the report found that 85 percent of Americans believe that obesity is an epidemic. At the same time, 81 percent of Americans believe the government should have a role in addressing the obesity crisis. If any  further incentive was needed, the report also found that the rates of overweight children (ages 10 to 17) ranged from a high of 22.8 percent in Washington, D.C. to a low of 8.5 percent in Utah. Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of overweight children were in the South. Among its recommendations for combating obesity, TFAH notes that federal, state and local governments should work with private employers and insurers to ensure that every working American has access to a workplace wellness program. As always, we welcome your comments. Check out further information from the I.I.I. on obesity.  Ã‚