Obesity in America, with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and Kelly Brownell, PhD.

What does President Bush's top health official have to say about battling our bulge?

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
Event Date: June 2003

Obesity is a big problem in the U.S. Some say it's an epidemic, with statistics revealing that as a nation we are heavier now than we've ever been. The impact on our health care system and our economy make curbing obesity everyone's concern. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and WebMD's weight management expert, Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, joined us to discuss the heavy cost of obesity.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live, Sec. Thompson.

Thompson: Thank you very much. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak on WebMD; I'm delighted to speak on the topics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Medicare. In other words: wellness. Wellness is the absolute thing that we should do in order to improve the health conditions for all Americans. We are spending 90%-plus of our money in Medicare to treat people after they become ill, and spend thousands of dollars getting them well again, but just a very small percentage of dollars to keep them well in the first place.

My mission at the Department is to transform those percentages and put the emphasis on prevention.

  • Don't smoke
  • Eat properly
  • Lose weight if you need to
  • Exercise

If you follow those rules, you can be a lot healthier, more productive, and be able to have a very long and successful life.

Moderator: How are you going to sell prevention to the American public? We've all heard the messages before.

Thompson: In a number of ways:

  • I am using my bully pulpit. In fact, I have just given two speeches on it today to thousands of individuals.
  • I am asking the restaurant association, the fast food industry, and the soft-drinks industry to work with us to put healthier items on their menus and help promote good nutrition, as well as good exercise.
  • I am encouraging health insurance companies across America to step up and give health credits for good lifestyles when they purchase health insurance, like automobile insurance companies give credits for good driving habits when you purchase automobile insurance.
  • We are putting on a prevention program in the Department of Health and Human Services to get more information out to individuals in several different languages.
  • We are starting a program called Healthy Cities, in which cities will be able to receive grant dollars from us for reducing diabetes, obesity, asthma, and by putting in recreation facilities for walking and exercising. For that money, and those results that will derive from these cities' good behavior, they will be able to be designated as the healthy cities in America.
  • Finally, we are putting a huge emphasis on information and direct involvement with minority groups all across America to educate, encourage, and hopefully change lifestyles in minority communities as it relates to proper nutrition and exercise in order to drive down or reduce the epidemics of obesity, asthma, and diabetes in those communities.

Member: What about getting insurance companies to provide benefits for weight-reduction programs and nutritional assistance?

Thompson: I happen to believe that that is a very good concept. The only problem is how to regulate it to make sure that people who get the credit are actually doing it. But I am very favorably disposed to that concept, the same way automobile insurance companies now give credit to good drivers and good driving habits when you purchase automobile insurance.

I just got done speaking to the Association of Health Plan Managers and Owners this afternoon, several thousand of which were in Washington, D.C., and I asked them to assist me in getting involved in doing those things that will help stimulate changes of lifestyle, such as good nutrition, proper exercise, and to be involved more directly in disease management. I pointed out why it would be a good investment for them and their companies, their shareholders, and their patients, to do just that.

Member: Britain and Australia are considering a VAT (value added tax) on unhealthy foods to counteract the high cost of obesity related diseases. Is this possible in the U.S.?

Thompson: At this point in time I think it is doubtful, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't look at accomplishing the same objective a different way, such as giving inducements to companies and discussing with these companies their corporate responsibility for providing healthier diets and more information about nutrition, diets, and exercise.



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