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Obesity a Big Factor in Healthcare Costs

Healthcare and healthcare reform are big issues in politics. The magic solution to these issues, however, is not rooted in subsidies, single-payer systems or the actual affordability of healthcare unique to every American – it’s in the individual health of Americans themselves. Ideally, the healthier you are or aim to be, the less you have to worry about chronic illnesses and injury, and by extension, the less you have to worry about healthcare costs. 

Given the state of American health and the economy, obesity has taken more than a few dollars from Americans. Regarding health care costs, for every dollar spent on healthcare, $0.95 is spent on treatment; the other $0.05 is spent on preventative care.

Obesity Raises Healthcare Costs

While that may not sound like much, in total, obesity-related medical treatment can cost up to $210 billion a year. Researchers estimate that if obesity trends continue, obesity-related medical costs could rise by up to $66 billion each year.  

Comparatively, obese people spend 42 percent more on healthcare costs than those of healthy-weight. In fine numbers, per capita medical spending is about $2,741 higher for the obese than healthy-weight individuals. 

“We are one of the most obese countries in the world, and statistics are showing that by 2020 over 75 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese,” Health Fitness Revolution founder Samir Becic said.

Read: Top 10 Health Tips for Americans

STUDY: Big Soda Gives Big Money To 96 National Health Organizations

National health organizations are important watchdogs in the fight against obesity. Groups like the American Heart Association draw attention to health crises and bring experts together. But a study published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo sponsored 96 national health organizations between 2011 and 2015. Their sponsorship even funded scientific and medical groups dedicated to fighting obesity.

The report’s authors cautioned that Big Soda’s lobbying presents a major obstacle in the fight against obesity.

Diabetes Groups Among Recipients of Sugar Money

Boston University medical student Daniel Aaron decided to investigate the “nature, extent, and implications of soda company sponsorship of U.S. health and medical organizations” after he attended health events and noticed that they were sponsored by the same sugary beverage companies causing health problems across the country.

Concerned, he turned to online resources and databases to find links between the Coca-Cola Company or PepsiCo and “health organizations,” which he defines as entities involved in the public’s health. Aaron found a pervasive link between Big Soda and lobbying: 96 national health organizations took soda’s money. During the time of the study soda companies lobbied against 29 health bills that would have curtailed soda consumption and decreased obesity.

Some health organizations who received Coke and/or Pepsi’s money:

  • American Diabetics Association
  • Harvard Medical School
  • National Dental Association
  • American Heart Association
  • The Obesity Society
Children's health charity Save the Children promoted a soda tax until Coke and Pepsi paid them $5 million in 2010
Children’s health charity Save the Children promoted a soda tax until Coke and Pepsi paid them $5 million in 2010

Deepening Concern About Sugar Lobbying Money

The revelation causes further concern that the sugar and soda industries are shaping the way Americans think about nutrition. Last month a study in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that in the 1960s the sugar industry paid Harvard doctors to minimize the health consequences of sugar. And Coca-Cola continues the practice in 2016 by paying dietitians to tweet anti-soda tax stories.

The Boston University study is the biggest and most recent reveal about the pervasiveness of Big Soda’s influence in reputable public health organizations. The study says that the communications “may shape the way Americans think about food and exercise” and that “it is probable that corporate philanthropy is increasing consumption of soda throughout the country.” As a result, these public health organizations are compromising their own mission and undermining the fight against obesity.

Further, “organizations may feel pressured to grant sponsors conference spots, which allow soda companies to present and speak at important health conferences and develop positive associations.”

big soda
Coca-Cola PR at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics annual convention. Source: eatdrinkpolitics.com

Following Marlboro’s Lead

Finally, the study compared Big Soda’s sponsorship to that of Big Tobacco in the 20th century. Tobacco and alcohol companies sponsored health organizations via corporate philanthropy as a marketing tool in the 20th century. When the harms of tobacco usage threatened cigarette market share, the tobacco companies wrote generous donations to public health organizations to mitigate the spread of negative information. But public outrage stopped this practice, and now few organizations take Big Tobacco money.

However, in 2008 obesity overtook smoking as the largest preventable cause of death in America. The average American consumes 46 gallons of soda per year, making it a significant factor in weight gain. By accepting money from soda companies, public health organizations are contributing misinformation that perpetuates the number one health crisis.

The study recommends (and Health Fitness Revolution agrees) that health organizations stop taking Coca-Cola’s money and find alternative sources of revenue in the interest of public health.

Read more from HFR on the link between corporate funding and the obesity crisis:

Sugar Industry Funded Misleading Studies on Heart Disease

The Food Industry Should Not Be Able to Buy Studies