U.S. health care costs $2.2 trillion - and rising

Rick Wagner • May 2, 2007 at 11:57 AM

KINGSPORT - The cost of health care in the United States was $2.2 trillion in 2006, including an average cost to businesses of $7,800 per employee.

That number, based on statistics from larger employers, has doubled from 1990 to 2001 and is expected to double again by 2010 to 2012. It was $4,037 in 1998 and is expected to be $8,333 this year.

Jerry Noyce, vice president of Health Fitness Corp., gave out those numbers during Wednesday's Shaping for the Future health care conference and said it's no wonder the cost of health care is the top issue for chief executive officers - 50 percent more important than rising energy costs.

Noyce, whose company works for Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co., said other sobering statistics include projections that health care will be 20 percent of gross domestic product by 2015 and that the United States is No. 1 in health care spending in the world but ranks 26th in health and longevity.

In a session called "Building a Healthy and Productive Work Force," Noyce said premature deaths cost the country $1.1 million a year, and diabetes and obesity combined cost the nation $250 billion a year.

Noyce, who serves on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, said the Partnership for Prevention suggests the following seven recommendations to combat obesity:

•Encourage in-school physical education.

•Increase access to places for physical activity.

•Promote healthy food in schools.

•Increase access to healthy foods in the community.

•Make public places and workplaces smoke free.

•Increase tobacco prices.

•Ensure access to preventative medical services.

If the other statistics were not enough to convince folks of the need for action, Noyce said 53 health problems are associated with obesity, and 18 percent to 20 percent of children in the country are obese.

A lack of physical activity, smoking, diet, being overweight, stress and substance abuse all contribute to health woes.

In the United States, the percentage of those overweight or obese is 61.1 percent compared to 62.3 percent in Tennessee, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. According to a 2006 Tennessee Report called "Weighing the Cost of Obesity," the Volunteer State ranked the fifth highest in obesity percentages nationwide in 2004. The state Office of Research and Education found obesity costs ran $1.84 billion in 2003.

"That's not the most exciting news, but it's the reality," Noyce said.

Noyce said solutions can include wellness programs by businesses that according to studies return between $3.93 to $5.07 per $1 invested.

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