Using tobacco is a big cultural no-no in Utah, in large part due to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' health doctrine. The dominant religion in the Beehive State counsels its members against using tobacco, and Utah has the lowest percentage of smokers in the nation.
And that is a wonderful thing.
But now there is another culprit threatening not only members of the LDS Church, but all Utahns and everyone else alike. That threat is obesity, and many Utahns could certainly benefit if the LDS Church would shift its emphasis to another admonition of its scripturally based health code: eating well and in moderation.
If that's what it takes to prevent more Utahns from becoming obese, we're all for a faith-based intervention. More people die every year from tobacco than from illegal drug use, homicides, suicides, AIDS, motor vehicle accidents, fires and alcohol combined. But the financial costs and human suffering caused by obesity have surpassed those caused by smoking.
It's surprising but true: Obesity has surpassed tobacco use as a cause of poor health and death.
According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah incurs $345 million in tobacco-related health costs every year and $294 million in lost productivity. But a new report shows that obesity-related diseases and health problems among Utah adults cost the state $485 million in 2008.
And, if the current trend toward more obesity continues, those costs will more than quadruple in the next six years, according to projections from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Institutes of Medicine.
The percentage of Utah adults who are obese is about 24 percent. If we could just keep that number from increasing, the savings by 2018 would be $1.4 billion in Utah alone.
Obesity is a major cause of many chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, asthma, stroke and some cancers. The costs of treating these conditions for a lifetime are staggering.
Obesity is linked to lack of exercise as well as too much fast food and other fat- and sugar-laden menus, too few fruits and vegetables, poor sleeping habits and stress. Obviously, there are no easy or simple solutions.
But parents can start by encouraging their children and teenagers to put down the electronic devices, turn off the television, climb out of the stroller and accompany them outside to walk, run, cycle, hike, swim, play sports or otherwise get moving. Everyone would benefit.