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The Burden Of Disease

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Economists and business leaders, meeting to discuss the costs of physical health on the economic health of the country, say some issues are being overlooked in the debate on health care.

Banners outside the food court at National Place encourage people to "Eat! Eat! Eat!" Meanwhile, just up the block, researchers and business leaders hope most people will ignore those signs.

Helen Darling is President of the National Business Group on Health. Darling was on a panel outlining the costs of diseases including obesity in a new report, The Burden of Disease by the Advanced Medical Technology Association.

"As a nation we're in serious trouble. We have a very unhealthy population. Twenty-seven percent of the increase of the health care costs over a 10-year period are directly due to obesity. Obesity alone cost us $147 billion annually."

Darling recommends tying a few strings to federal health care funds. "Every bit of federal money that's allocated in grants would have to be accompanied by an obesity impact plan," says Darling.

Dr. David Cutler, professor of applied economics at Harvard University, weighed in on the private sector. He says across the board, employer-funded health programs are worth the expense. "Employers save much more money than they put into these programs. The return on investment for a typical employer is about two or three to one -- for every dollar they invest, they get about two or three dollars back."

Cutler says there are easily-identifiable places to rein in spending and costs. "In a typical year the flu will cost Americans $20 to $40 billion in lost productivity. Every time you see $20 billion lying on the street you should do something to pick up the money.

Stephanie Kaye reports...

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