Obesity and Diabetes: ‘Public Enemy No. 1’

Two top physicians outline crisis at Medical Summit


This post is part of ongoing coverage of Cleveland Clinic’s 2013 Medical Innovation Summit: Finding Balance through Innovation. Obesity, Diabetes & the Metabolic Crisis.

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The numbers don’t lie — type 2 diabetes and obesity are the most pressing threats to public health today, said two prominent physicians speaking to an audience of more than 1,500 healthcare thought leaders at Cleveland Clinic’s Medical Innovation Summit today.

“The problem is enormous,” said Philip Schauer, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute and an international obesity expert. “From a public health perspective, these are public enemy No. 1.”

Both Dr. Schauer and Michael Roizen, MD, Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Wellness Officer, shared startling statistics about today’s obesity epidemic:

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  • The rise in chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes accounts for 85 percent of the sharp increases in healthcare costs.
  • Four factors are responsible for 75 percent of that increase — tobacco use, food choices and portion size, physical activity and stress.
  • 15 million Americans are morbidly obese, 85 million are obese and 100 million are overweight.
  • The average 30-year-old with a new diagnosis of type 2 diabetes will require $305,000 in medical costs over his or her lifetime, which is roughly the cost equivalent of 12 weight-loss surgeries.
  • Type 2 diabetes is the seventh most common cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of new blindness (in adults), kidney failure and limb amputation.
  • About 96 percent of type 2 diabetes in the United States is uncontrolled.

As troubling as the obesity crisis in the United States is, Dr. Roizen says rates of obesity worldwide aren’t far behind.

“We have as a world increased from 150 million to 500 million obese people. Every country is following our lead,” he says. “We are setting a very bad example.”

As evidence that healthcare providers can do more to counteract the overwhelming rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes, Dr. Roizen pointed to wellness programs created for Cleveland Clinic’s 44,000 employees. Those programs — which include free fitness classes, Weight Watchers classes and healthier food choices — have resulted in a total of 415,000 pounds lost and leveled off healthcare costs and diagnoses of chronic illness.

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“Can we change the health of a population?” he asked the audience. “The answer is yes.”

Dr. Schauer challenged both physicians and researchers to take action to create new ways of treating obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“If there’s one thing Americans can do, it’s innovate,” he said. “And that’s what this event is all about.”

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