By Lauren Hanson
SALT LAKE CITY — With the rate of obesity increasing in America, Utah lawmakers say they should take a deeper look into tackling this growing problem. A bill to do just that has already passed the Utah House and is set to be considered by senators.
According to State of Obesity, Utah ranks 45th in America for Adult Obesity and 43rd for obesity in 10-to-17 year olds.
In the House Health and Human Services Standing Committee Meeting held Feb. 18, Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, discussed HB295 which modifies the Public Employees’ Benefit and Insurance Program Act to address obesity. In essence, the bill would require annual reports about the obesity of public employees.
Hutchings said that the rate of obesity has more than doubled in the last years, and that pediactric spaces have started to see obesity challenges in kids.
He hoped that his bill would bring to light what actions Utah might want to take to get ahead of the increasing obesity rates, and especially what they might want to do to stifle obesity in children.
Hutchings pointed out that health challenges like obesity can carry over into other state expenses, like Medicaid or disability funding, and that the legislature should work on finding statistics for how it affects the overall health cost of the state.
As a former physician, Rep. Edward Redd, R-Cache County, agreed that obesity does affect a lot of health issues including cholesterol, degenerative heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. “It is important to reduce health costs, and if you don’t address this issue, you won’t succeed,” he said.
However, Redd said that it would be a balance to see how much medical intervention would actually be beneficial and how much would end up costing more than the disease.
The next step would be to figure out what that treatment would look like and if it would mean more bike trails and bike lanes, community walking trails, recess, basketball courts, or more city parks.
There are no definitive answers yet, but Hutchings said that it’s time to start looking into it.”When you put a dollar figure to it, then you can start having a different conversation about whether or not these innovations are worth it,” he said.
Hutchings said that the legislature has put a lot of effort towards child performance in academics and funding for career and college readiness, but they haven’t talked about the health side of child performance.
“We are cutting out PE and recess, and I don’t know if we ever sat down to see if there was an impact from that,” he said.
Because of liability issues and other expenses, there has been a decrease in recreational facilities such as playgrounds and basketball courts. Hutchings told the committee members that if in the process of trying to save money, he wondered if it ended up costing the state more in healthcare.
Hutchings said he ultimately wants to pull this bill forward to have a discussion about where this issue starts and how Utah can make proactive movements towards solving it.
“Once we understand the magnitude of the issue, then we can see just how far down the chain we need to start making an impact and know how and when to start having health conversations with parents and kids to prevent this growing epidemic,” he said.
The bill passed with favorable recommendation.