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Fat 2 Fit: Can You Afford to Be Overweight and Out of Shape?

A disproportionate number of young Americans lack medical insurance. Yet young people—and the rest of us—need to maintain a healthy weight to avoid expensive, lifestyle-related medical conditions.

In the future, our wealth may depend upon our health. That's because one of the unfortunate by-products of being overweight and out of shape is the risk of increased medical expenses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the most common medical problems (heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and some forms of cancer) are linked with excess weight and lack of fitness.

As the numbers on the scale climb, so do the numbers of medically uninsured people. Today, experts estimate that more than 43 million Americans under age 65 lack medical insurance. Moreover, a disproportionate number of the uninsured are young adults (ages 19 to 29). While young adults make up 17 percent of the under-65 population, they represent 30 percent of that group’s uninsured.

According to Commonwealth Fund data through 2007, more than 13 million people age 19 to 29 had no health insurance. Uninsured young adults are living without medical care, including doctor visits, prescriptions, and necessary treatments. When young adults have to choose between paying the rent and buying food or receiving medical care, they often bypass medical care.

While older Americans have their advocacy groups and other nonprofits are sensitive to children’s needs, young adults have few advocates in the health care system or in the government. Moreover, we can’t assume that youth protects these young adults from requiring medical care. Indeed, their medical needs are not inconsequential. Obesity, which has medical consequences, increased by 70 percent in this age group in the 1990s alone. Plus, there are 3.5 million pregnancies in this age group each year.

Since I lost weight and changed my lifestyle, I’ve encouraged everyone who is independent and of age to adopt healthy habits. Sometimes I appeal to vanity: I ask people to reflect on how much better they will feel and look if they lose weight and exercise regularly.

Increasingly, though, the economics of health care makes the most compelling argument: We can’t afford the option of getting ill. Getting and staying fit can safeguard your health. In the face of that difficult reality, to enhance your wealth, preserve your health.

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