I don’t often get scared when reporting on stories we cover, but an article I wrote last month on the worsening obesity epidemic in South Carolina – which is on the cusp of creating a massive health care crisis in the Palmetto State – truly frightened me.
For that story, I interviewed Dr. Marc Antonetti – one of the founders of the South Carolina Obesity Surgery Center (SCOSC) at Lexington Medical Center, a West Columbia, S.C.-based health care provider that serves much of the Midlands region of the Palmetto State.
The numbers, trends and costs Dr. Antonetti shared with me were truly staggering … which is why I wanted to speak with him in more detail about this looming crisis.
“It’s something that’s not going away. It’s really a silent epidemic that people aren’t talking about,” Antonetti told me in an interview which previewed during the latest episode of our Week In Review. “(People) poorly understand the coming tidal wave of effects on our society.”
A huge part of the problem? Soaring rates of childhood obesity …
“If you look at children between the ages of 10 and 17, about twenty percent of the kids in South Carolina in that age are obese,” Dr. Antonetti said. “That’s a dramatic increase from what we have seen historically.”
As we previously reported, consumer financial website WalletHub released its latest report in late March unflinchingly entitled “Fattest Cities in the U.S.” The Palmetto State’s capital – Columbia, S.C. – ranked No. 10 nationally. Meanwhile, Greenville ranked No. 15, Myrtle Beach clocked in at No. 17, and Charleston came in at No. 24. In other words, all four of South Carolina’s major population centers ranked in the Top 25.
South Carolina rural areas also struggle – including Allendale and Williamsburg counties, where obesity rates registered at a whopping 46 percent according to a recent report form the University of Wisconsin.
According to Dr. Antonetti, growing areas of our nation – like Allendale and Williamsburg – are located within “food deserts.”
“A food desert basically is an area where the availability of healthy or more nutritious food is limited so the food options become more fast food-based or foods that are lower in nutritional value,” he said. “There are places within our country – in a lot of the cities and some of the rural areas – where there’s just not access in a reasonable distanced for most people to get healthier food choices.”
How do we start solving the problem? According to Dr. Antonetti, it's all about education.
"We have to start educating all kids early on about nutrition," he said. "Education is the number one thing. The inability to get healthy meals, the lack of understanding about the long-term consequences of repeated consumption of fast food or unhealthy meals, that's really where we have to start. We have to let people know what nutrition really is and then what are the consequences of the choices they make in the short term and the long-term."
Education is also critical for employers, who have the opportunity to achieve long-term savings by addressing obesity through surgery.
"The benefits for people who have surgery are reaped in the short- and the long-term," Dr. Antonetti said, citing the potential for significant financial savings by employers who adopt a "long-term, strategic approach" regarding the health of their employees.
"Employers that are really concerned - and that really want to keep their employees and have them be employees for awhile - have done the math," he said. "The return on investment on a bariatric surgery - especially in a well-established center - it's about two years. So after you initially get through that first two years you've recouped the cost of what you've spent on that surgery."
Count on FITSNews to continue tracking this - and other issues related to the health and wellness of the Palmetto State - as we ramp up our healthcare coverage.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ...
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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