COLUMBIA, S.C. The nation's health care system can't be overhauled without first addressing preventable health problems, particularly obesity, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Tuesday.
The former presidential candidate told a crowd of health insurers and care providers that politicians tend not to focus on preventable chronic health problems because they often require a generation - not a term in office - to bring about widely accepted change. He compared dealing with healthier living issues to anti-littering, seat belt and anti-smoking campaigns that took decades to take hold.
Huckabee was diagnosed with diabetes, lost more than 100 pounds and became an avid runner and outspoken in calling for adults and children to live healthier and control their weight.
Obesity looms as a problem in South Carolina. With 27.8 percent of adults obese, the Palmetto State ties with Tennessee as the nation's fattest, according to a Trust for America's Health study released last month. South Carolina ranked seventh for childhood obesity at nearly 19 percent.
"The sad fact is for the first time since 1776 and the 232 years of this nation's history, a child born in America today, because of the impact of obesity and childhood-related chronic diseases, is the first kid in the history of this nation who is not expected to have a life span equal to or greater than that of his parents or grandparents. Never happened before," Huckabee said.
Too often, Huckabee said, parents give children grease-laden fast food on the way to school and on the way home. Many "people think that the cause is because we've lost gym class and it's the school lunch menus. ... I wish it were that simple."
Emma Forkner, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, told the gathering that obesity is taking a toll on state taxpayers, too.
An analysis of South Carolina Medicaid data claims showed 1,100 of 100,000 children were being treated for obesity in the Medicaid program compared with 195 out of 100,000 among private employers. Meanwhile, the cost for caring for the most seriously obese people is soaring. While the Medicaid program treated about 6,500 adults and children in the 2007 fiscal year for about $1.4 million, those costs for the same number of people nearly doubled to $2.7 million in the 2008 fiscal year, Forkner said.
Forkner expects new preventive care programs the state has begun using will help cut costs.
The "State of Our Health" conference in Columbia was sponsored by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca LP and the National Committee for Quality Assurance. Among other things, the company makes drugs that target cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes.