Commentary: Preventing health problems is key to reform

Within the contentious debate surrounding national health care reform, there's one point of agreement for most Americans: The present system is broken. It's not just an issue of cost but outcomes. How can America outspend every other nation in the world in health care and yet be ranked by the World Health Organization only 37th in health care quality? The answer is clear: For some reason, we have been willing to pay higher and higher medical costs rather than focus on preventing health problems before they occur.

A new study released by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy highlights the problem. Analyzing the actual costs of obesity and physical inactivity, the center found that California is paying more than $41 billion every year in health care and lost productivity. That's $41 billion — more than one-third of California's state budget. What's even more alarming is that the reported costs have more than doubled in the six years since the study was last done. By the year 2011, the study's authors estimate we'll be paying $53 billion a year.

Why the high cost? Part of the answer is in the climbing costs of health care and pharmaceuticals. Another is the 33 percent rise in obesity rates in just six years throughout California. If the current obesity epidemic is not turned around, it has been projected that this could be the first generation of children in modern history to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

Unfortunately, while the obesity epidemic has been well chronicled, both the public and private sectors have done little to correct this disastrous condition.

To read the complete column, visit sacbee.com.

Rep. Doris O. Matsui is the Democratic congresswoman from Sacramento. Dr. Harold Goldstein is the executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.