In the future, our wealth may depend upon our health. That’s because one of the unfortunate by-products of being overweight and out of shape is the risk of increased medical expenses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most common medical problems (heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some forms of cancer) are linked with excess weight and lack of fitness.
As the numbers on the scale climb, so do the numbers of medically uninsured people. Today, experts estimate that 47 million adults out of 300 million U.S. citizens lack medical insurance. Moreover, a disproportionate number of the uninsured are young adults (aged 19 to 29). While young adults make up 17 percent of the total population, they represent 30 percent of the uninsured.
According to census data through 2006, nearly 14 million people aged 19 to 29 had no health insurance. This number represents an increase of 400,000 in one year (from 2005 to 2006). By extrapolating the trend through 2009, we can assume that the number of uninsured is approaching or has exceeded 15 million.
While seniors have their advocacy groups and others are sensitive to children’s needs, young adults have no advocates in the healthcare system or in the government. Moreover, we can’t assume that youth protects these young adults from requiring medical care; indeed, their medical needs are not inconsequential. Obesity, which has documented medical consequences, increased by 70 percent in this age group in the last 20 years. Plus, there are 3.5 million pregnancies among females in this age group each year.
Uninsured young adults are living without medical care, including doctor visits, prescriptions and needed treatments. When young adults have to choose between paying the rent and buying food or receiving medical care, medical care is bypassed. Without a regular doctor, young adults don’t receive ongoing medical supervision, and minor problems left untreated become more threatening and expensive to address.
Since I lost weight and renovated my lifestyle, I’ve voluntarily undertaken the task of encouraging everyone—independent of age—to adopt healthy habits. Sometimes I appeal to people’s vanity—I encourage individuals to think how much better they will feel and look if they lose weight and exercise regularly.
Increasingly, though, the economics of healthcare makes the most compelling argument: we can’t afford the option of not being fit. The medical costs associated with disease and illness are simply beyond the reach of millions of us. In the face of that difficult reality, to enhance our wealth, we must preserve our health.