Effect of Changing Patient Populations on Work in Health Care: Obesity

Rates of obesity in the United States:

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

 Image: NIH Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

If you have been alive for more than 30 years, you have probably noticed a health trend in the United States in the last few decades. If you observe people at work, at the store, or  in the community, you will probably notice that many people are overweight or obese. According to the NIH, more than two thirds of  adults over the age of 20 are overweight or obese. Over one third of adults are obese.  A body mass index  (BMI) of greater than 25 is overweight, and a BMI of 30 or more is obese. This translates into a waist measurement of over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. According to the National Institutes of Health interactaive map above, the rate of overweight and obesity has increased dramatically in the United States in the last three decades, and there is no sign of the rate slowing. Overweight and obesity increases the risk for many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, type II diabetes, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, breathing diseases, some forms of cancer, and many other diseases. The resulting increase in disease will likely send more individuals into the health care system for treatment.

How will the health care system and health care workers accomodate all these patients? It is clear that the health care system in America will grow as a result of the increase in obesity and associated diseases. This may force some changes in the system. For one thing, the cost of health care will likely continue to rise. According to an October 2011 New York Times article, “[i]n 2010, the United States spent $2.6 trillion on health care, over $8,000 per American” (Emanuel). Take a look at the New York Times link if you would like to see how health care costs in America compare to other Western countries: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/27/spending-more-doesnt-make-us-healthier/

Increasing numbers of overweight and obese patients are will stress not only the health care budget, but also the health care system. What effect will these changes have on work in the health care industry? Will we need more cardiac care units? What about doctors and nurses specializing in obesity, diabetes, cancer, sleep apnea, etc.? Will we need more hospitals and workers? Overweight patients presenting with related diseases may increase stress on health care workers who will need to physically care for, lift, and transport the individuals. Here is an article on the effects of transporting obese patients by ambulance. According to the article, it can cost two to three times as much to transport an obese person compared to a normal weight person, and the costs to paramedics are significant as well. http://www.independentmail.com/news/2010/apr/30/heavy-lifting-medical-first-responders-pay-price-h/

As America becomes fatter and sicker, the health care system may need to shift to improving preventative health care to reduce obesity rather than deal with later stages of resulting illness. Will nutrition and lifestyle education become a part of the health care system to try to combat the problem? What new positions may be created? How will existing health workers adapt to work with these new patients?

To get a picture of the increase in this new patient population, see how obesity rates have grown from 1985 to 2010, click on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Centers for Disease Control link below and watch the animation: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

Here are rates of obesity in the states for years 1985, 1998, and 2010 from the above NIH animation. Red in a state means more than 30% of the population is obese. Watch the change from 1985-2010. 

Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.


Obesity map. For data, see PowerPoint or PDF linked above.

Image: NIH Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

For more information on the diseases and statistics related to obesity, see the following link from the NIH: http://win.niddk.nih.gov/statistics/#overweight

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