New coalition aims to improve residents' health

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse | 12/7/2010, 8:49 p.m.

 The combination of the recession and poor health has not just affected individual residents — it has affected the entire Commonwealth. For instance, the report cites one study claiming that diabetes alone costs the state $2.2 billion each year, a number that could triple by the year 2023 if current medical trends continue.

“Obesity-related expenditures cost Massachusetts $1.8 billion a year already, and overall spending on health care has topped $60 billion a year,” said Ranch Kimball, former CEO of the Joslin Diabetes Center and former Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development. “Freeing up even a fraction of the cost of health care will create new resources to address the compelling needs of the Commonwealth.”

 In light of these problems, the Healthy People/ Healthy Economy coalition sets its long-term goals as reducing rates of overweight, obesity, preventable chronic disease and health care costs. Benchmarks for success include more farmer’s markets, healthier school lunches, a reduction in soda consumption and the elimination of food deserts, neighborhoods with little access to fresh and healthy food.

 Benchmarks also include increased employee health promotion programs, better menu labeling in restaurants and Body Mass Index screening and reporting. To report on these benchmarks, the Healthy People/Healthy Economy will release an annual scorecard.

 “What we’re really talking about today is changing the conditions of people’s lives and public health writ large,” said John Auerbach, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health at the coalition’s launch event last week. “We are at a turning point, with the opportunity to develop a critical mass of well-coordinated activities.”