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Editorial: Future of health care literally in the middle

When taken together, two headlines this week show that if the United States is ever going to get a handle on health care, and health-care costs, it has to get a handle on its middle. Literally.

The first, “Waist-to-height ratio may be best risk signal,” reveals that measurement is a more accurate predictor of cardiovascular health risk than the ubiquitous body mass index, which was developed in 1850 and isn’t accurate for some ethnicities, ages and fitness levels.

The second, “Typical teen inactive, has poor diet, NIH reports” says almost half the nation’s teens are “remarkably unhealthy. … They are extremely sedentary and they have terrible diets for a variety of reasons.”

Considering heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, and sedentary teens with poor diets are headed in that direction, the nation is set up for a lot more sicker and more expensive lives unless things change. Dr. Ronald J. Iannotti, a researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says “the fact that these patterns are being established during childhood really suggests that they’ll have poor health outcomes in the future.” But thanks to miracles of modern medicine and pharmaceuticals, they won’t necessarily be shorter – just more expensive and more miserable.

The fact European researchers have handed the medical community a better predictor than BMI of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes should help counter that – but only if it is used in conjunction with diet and exercise.

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According to the World Health Organization, the United States spends almost 18 percent of its gross domestic product on health care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years,” with nearly 18 percent of U.S. children aged 6—11 years and 18 percent of adolescents ages 12-19 considered not just pleasantly plump or big-boned or stocky, but obese.

If we are going to even start to address spiralling health-care costs, we will have to use every tool available to reduce the causes linked to our nation’s No. 1 killer.

And that will have the much-needed side effect of delivering healthier and more affordable lives.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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