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Fat Chance

Obesity could be costing Hawaii $500 million a year

Businesses nationwide lose more than $12 billion a year because of higher health care costs related to obesity, according to the Washington Business Group on Health (WBGH).

Illustration: Stephen Goss

One of the authors of a Hawaii study on childhood obesity, University of Hawaii associate professor Dennis Chai, says Hawaii's juvenile obesity rate may be as high as 26 percent, double the national rate of 13 percent in 2000.

Obesity contributes to a whole host of health problems from cardiovascular disease to some cancers. "It's a ticking time bomb," Chai says.

Why do you call it a "ticking time bomb?"

Just from 2000 to 2003, the numbers go up from 13 percent to 15 percent [juveniles who are obese] nationally. And we haven't even followed up on our 26 percent in 2000. But the national numbers jumped up and it's just getting worse and worse and worse.

There are also more numbers coming out on adult obesity. In 20 years, the numbers have doubled nationwide and there was a study recently where 60 percent of Americans are considered to be overweight.

Why is obesity a problem?

That heftiness leads to health problems. Nobody's listening. I've been preaching that for years. Nobody cares about health problems. Perhaps if we talked to people about money problems - obesity costs a lot of money. …I asked several people, "What are the costs for Hawaii?" Figures ranged anywhere from $300 million to $500 million.

How are we going to solve the problem?

To get people to eat healthy or to get people to exercise is a tough thing to do, because it's an attitudinal thing.

What's your message to the business community?

Help! [Business] is one of the powers that be that can make an impact in our schools and of course in their workplaces. Some workplaces do that already by giving their employees incentives if they are involved in a regular exercise program.

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