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Shape Up or Pay Up!

When you shed pounds and get healthy, you reduce your risk of obesity-related illness and help our health-care system save money.

We all know that medical costs are rising. Many factors are causing this spike, but among the most identifiable may be the increase in obesity. Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese and, given the trend, this number is projected to reach 75 percent in the next few years.

As researchers have repeatedly documented, being overweight can lead to a host of medical problems: gallbladder disease, stroke, coronary disease, certain cancers, diabetes, and others. And these medical conditions lead to a host of medical expenses.

Who will foot the bill?

Certainly families are aware of the worrisome increase in costs when they write checks for their medical expenses. Their awareness is matched by the concern of their employers. The cost of employee health care premiums rises, as does the pressure to provide coverage to the uninsured—a double whammy.

So what's an employer to do? Some benefits administrators are employing the "stick" motivational technique by deducting money from the paychecks of employees who don’t meet certain health requirements or who smoke.

Other companies are giving "carrots." That is, the employer reduces the amount of the insurance deductible as an incentive to get and stay trim. Instead of paying the first $5,000 in medical expenses each year, for example, the employee who doesn't smoke and who stays trim may have the deductible reduced to $1,000.

What can you and I do? As employees or retirees—whatever our station in life—we must set an example.

Others will follow our lead if we step up and challenge ourselves to lose weight and get fit. To misquote President Roosevelt, we have nothing to lose but pounds themselves.

And what we have to gain is extremely valuable. We can regain the self-respect and financial viability that comes from living a disciplined life. Is that too much to ask of ourselves? And can we afford to do anything less?

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