Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches

Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches
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Federal and state policymakers frequently ask, what’s the right solution for addressing our nation’s growing health care costs?

There are, of course, many answers. As the country’s leading voice, charged with tracking annual fitness trends, our research points to a growing consensus: Too many Americans are completely sedentary and many more are not active enough to realize all the benefits of an active lifestyle. Getting more Americans physically active will lower health care spending. Period.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) studied the prevalence of obesity and its correlation with a rise in per-capita spending back in 2008. Ten years later, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report a July report, titled, “Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Much like its predecessor, it too found the lack of physical activity and exercise to be the primary culprits behind our nation’s growing list of preventable chronic diseases — illnesses that cost $1,429 more on average each year to treat.

The CDC calls physical activity the “wonder drug,” and the president’s council will be charged with increasing awareness, which will help prevent heart conditions, Type II diabetes, arthritis, depression, dementia, anxiety, certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases.  

Maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle leads to societal benefits as well. Active children perform better in school and have fewer social issues related to bullying, teen pregnancy and violence. Adults who are active have lower rates of absenteeism and are more productive in the workplace. In fact, research indicates that adults who were on youth sports teams develop positive leadership and teamwork skills, which follow them long into their careers.

Last year, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health projected that if children continue to stay inactive at their current level, 8.1 million of them will be overweight or obese by 2020, resulting in a negative economic impact of $2.8 trillion, due to additional medical costs and lost wages.

But it’s not just public awareness that will solve the problem. Congress also has an opportunity to get in the game. With 82 million Americans choosing a sedentary lifestyle, the “wonder solution” is legislation that encourages exercise — either at home, in a gym or outdoors. The House of Representatives took an initial step this past summer by allowing limited use of health savings accounts for the sole purpose of physical activity.

The bill won the support of 277 Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Legislation introduced by Sens. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThunePolls: Hiking estate tax less popular than taxing mega wealth, income Will Trump sign the border deal? Here's what we know Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'down payment' on wall MORE (R-S.D.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyCongress closer to forcing Trump’s hand on Saudi support House passes bill to end US support for Saudi war in Yemen This week: Border deal remains elusive as shutdown looms MORE (D-Conn.), titled the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act (S. 482), goes even further by removing economic barriers for rural and urban Americans alike and for all age brackets.

For too many American families, cost is a hurdle. In 2015, the University of Michigan issued a report, Pay-to-Play: Keeping Kids on the Sidelines. The statistics were broad and compelling. Researchers determined that the cost of school sports prevents many children from participating, which can average as high as $400 per child at the middle or high school level. Knowing that inactive children are six times more likely to have inactive children themselves later in life, it is time that policymakers take meaningful and concrete steps, like passing the PHIT Act and truly start bending the cost curve.

We know the problem: Physical inactivity drives up health care expenditures and cost can be a barrier to becoming active. The National Institutes of Health confirmed this with the release of its groundbreaking study this year, Barriers to Voluntary Participation in Sport for Children. Hence now is the time to be innovative in providing practical solutions.

The House passed its version of the PHIT bill in July. We ask that the Senate take the next step and pass the Thune/Murphy bill. It will improve health in America for generations to come.

Tom Cove is the president and CEO of the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). SFIA is the national trade association representing sports and fitness businesses, with the goal of building healthier lifestyles in America.