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Luskin: The High Cost of Fat

(Host) Despite making new year's resolutions to lose weight, many Americans give up early in the year. Novelist and commentator Deborah Lee Luskin has discovered new reasons for sticking to a weight-reduction plan.

(Luskin) Every time I've lost weight, I've been motivated by vanity. Since childhood, I've attempted and despaired of ever achieving runway thin until recently, when I became resigned to a widening waist as an inevitable part of middle age.

I told myself to get used to it and wear elastic. So I stopped weighing myself -until I went to the doctor. It wasn't just the scale that was over-the-top; it was my blood pressure. I started taking medication.

Coronary heart disease runs in my family, so I'm genetically at risk for cardiac disease. I know the garden-variety cardiac risks I have are largely preventable. I could make myself better. But I'd have to lose weight. If I didn't, I'd be spending more time at the doctor's office instead of getting my work done and playing outdoors. I'd be enriching the pharmaceutical companies - and I'd be using my health insurance benefits, driving up costs for a preventable condition. I didn't want to do that.

For the first time in my life, losing weight was not about aesthetics, but about my quality of life. So I ate less and exercised more, and I've seen all my numbers go down: Not just my weight and my waistline, but my blood pressure and my lipids as well. I became dizzy with success - and had to stop taking the blood pressure meds.

Iknow I'm privileged to have insurance coverage and access to care that everyone should have, including care for health maintenance, care for chronic illness and for emergency treatment. I grant you that such universal health care comes with a cost, but so does being overweight.

Aperson with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 25 is overweight. A person with a BMI over 30 is obese. About two thirds of the American populationis overweight, a group that included me until a few weeks ago.

By2030, it's estimated that 86% of the American population will be overweight; 42% will be obese. And it's already costing us big bucks. In the past ten years, Americans have spent about four billion dollars for the extra 938 million gallons of gasoline needed for our cars to carry heavier loads.

America's weight problem costs more in jet fuel, just to get us off the ground, and mass transit has started installing wider seats, meaning they move fewer people at a time. Americans could help reduce carbon emissions and save money - if we all just slimmed down.

In addition to the costs of medical treatments, America's weight problem has cost hospitals extra money for wider wheel chairs, cranes to lift overweight patients from gurney to bed, and oversized diagnostic machines. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2008 the medical care costs of obesity in the United States totaled about $147 billion.

If health care is a right, then self-care is a responsibility, just like voting and paying taxes. Achieving a BMI of 25 is a start: it saves money, it reduces carbon emissions, and it's patriotic.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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