Despite obesity rates that continue to skyrocket, Congress is expected to vote to substantially cut funding that is designated to help address the number-one preventable cause of death in America.
The Prevention and Public Health Fund, created by the Affordable Care Act only two years ago, helps states address the root causes of costly, preventable and deadly diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Congress is expected to vote to cut $5 billion from the Fund -- a whopping one-third of the fund's $15 billion allocation. The funding cut is designed to help partially pay for the costs of halting cuts to Medicare physician payments, extending unemployment benefits, and extending the payroll tax holiday.
According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, obesity is America's number-one preventable cause of death (ranked above smoking). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one-third of all U.S. adults and nearly 20 percent of U.S. children are obese. The funding cut that Congress will soon vote on will substantially limit the ability of the Fund to reduce rising rates of chronic disease caused by obesity. As the Campaign to End Obesity Action Fund points out, cutting preventative funding will cost tax-payers more in the long-run. Reducing obesity by just five percent would save more than $158 billion over 10 years.
Common Threads' Miami Development Manager Courtenay Strickland pointed out that this shortsighted decision is not atypical. "In virtually all areas, from education to criminal justice to women's health to this, legislators tend to be far too willing to pay the exorbitant costs of dealing with the problem after the fact rather than spending a much smaller amount on prevention and reaping the cost savings later," she wrote in response to the announcement.
This is the reality that we have to deal with every day: it is more convenient to wait and fix problems once they already exist than it is to avoid them in the first place. However, spending money now to prevent chronic disease and curb the growing obesity rates in America is the right thing to do. Prevention programs are imperative to controlling the exploding growth in health care costs. Indeed, CDC statistics show that people who are obese have annual medical costs that are at least $1,400 higher than the annual medical costs for people of normal body weight.
Despite Congress' plan to cut this funding, our mission at Common Threads and what we all do in the greater philanthropic community does not change. Our responsibility as a community is to find innovative solutions to make social change and to be hopeful and optimistic about the possibility of making a real difference to prevent future problems and empower people to make positive changes in their own lives. We should identify potential roadblocks that we see around us, but we also should not let those roadblocks deter us from our mission.
Here at Common Threads, we are currently working to maximize our own impact within the current system. "The future and the sustainability lies in our years of research and knowledge in the field of childhood obesity," wrote Common Threads' co-founder Chef Art Smith. "There are civic and community groups across the country that have fledgling programs and funding -- but lack the tools. We can create the tools and study plans by our years of experience and with our current work in selected satellite programs."
"Rather than teaching 6,000," he charged, "let's teach 600,000 kids."
This is the kind of response that we all need to have.
I think that the charge (for Common Threads, for our partners, for our colleagues in philanthropy, and for you) was explained best by the ever eloquent Dr. Seuss near the end of The Lorax:
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's just not."