Mass. town takes steps to trim fat (really), health care costs

April 21, 2009
by Mimi Hall
USA Today

Kelle Shugrue's 7-year-old son eats fresh fruit and vegetables at his public school, rides his bike along neighborhood paths and walked to school last week as part of a community effort to get kids moving.

The Shugrue family lives in Somerville, Mass., a Boston suburb hailed by health advocates for its seven-year investment in programs fighting childhood obesity and encouraging healthful living.

According to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, 45% of Americans - 133 million people - suffer from at least one chronic disease such as asthma or hypertension. Because many of the conditions are brought on or exacerbated by obesity, which has doubled nationwide since 1987, experts say they can be prevented or at least better managed. childhood obesity and encouraging healthful living.

Jeffrey Levi, director of the non-profit Trust for America's Health, is more focused on solving the problem before it begins.

Levi says he's sure changes to the health-care system will include funding and programs to prevent chronic disease. That wasn't the case in 1993-94, during the last overhaul effort, when he said public health advocates were "banging at the door" to get heard.

"I am very confident (legislation) will include a serious commitment to public health and prevention," Levi says.

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