With the holiday season safely tucked away, many Lodians are now turning to the annual January tradition — New Year’s Resolutions. Arguably, the most common New Year’s Resolutions revolve around health, and specifically weight loss.

But trying to fit back into those skinny jeans may not be the only reason for Lodi to drop a few post-holiday pounds. More importantly, it may save your life and help save Lodi employers thousands of dollars annually.

That was the message delivered to nearly 150 business leaders and decision makers who came together last week for a Community Leadership Breakfast, hosted by the newly-formed Healthy Lodi Initiative.

“The turnout was what we had hoped for,” said Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi District Chamber of Commerce. “The interest in becoming a part of the effort for a healthier Lodi really blew our planning committee away.”

Obesity is a grave public health threat, more serious even than the opioid epidemic, according to the Commonwealth Fund. It is linked to chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Obesity accounts for 18 percent of deaths among Americans ages 40 to 85, according to a 2013 study — challenging the prevailing wisdom among scientists, which had placed the rate at around 5 percent. This means obesity is comparable to cigarette smoking as a public health hazard.

“Amid the many concerns our community faces, the most troubling is 1 out of 2 Lodians having diabetes or pre-diabetes by 2020,” said Kevin Attride, Network Strategies Executive at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial. “The research is clear that diabetes and the other chronic diseases closely associated with it are nearing epidemic trends, causing not only severe healthcare expenses for the average person, local business, and government, but arguably worse. This illness is silently crushing the livelihood and well-being of those affected. But there is good news: these diseases are largely preventable.”

The sobering news triggered more than 100 business owners or senior managers to say they’d like to talk to health providers about a program to get their employees healthier, while another 23 breakfast attendees said they wanted to help by joining a steering committee.

“It’s becoming more and more clear that if we want to help our local businesses reduce health care and worker’s compensation costs, we’ve got to help our workers become healthier,” Patrick said. “We need to find ways to encourage our employees to make simple lifestyle choices that will curb disease and maximize well-being.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country’s bulging waistlines are not only contributing to chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, asthma, diabetes and arthritis, but those diseases are costing employers nearly $69 billion in lost productivity alone each year.

The CDC further estimates that many of these chronic diseases — including type 2 diabetes — can be prevented, delayed or alleviated through simple lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise and improving nutrition, preventing 80 percent of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, as well as 40 percent of cancer.

Statistics from the CDC show 6 in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, stroke or diabetes. These and other chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they are also a leading driver of health care costs.

Obesity’s link to chronic disease is not just affecting Lodi residents, but also the bottom line of the city’s employers.

“Employers are already paying an average of $15,000 per year for each employee’s insurance,” Patrick said. “If that employee has diabetes, add an average of 5 percent to the annual premium cost.”

The costs are even higher for worker’s compensation rates, which average $14,000 per claim.

“Claims with comorbidity diagnoses (such as type 2 diabetes) cost twice as much,” Patrick said. “This is not sustainable for our community, and this is not good business.Chronic disease is a massive problem — but a solvable one. Through policies that promote prevention, innovation and access, our political leaders can turn the page on a chronic disease epidemic that has plagued our nation for too long.”

Part of the Chamber of Commerce’s Vision 2020, the Healthy Lodi Initiative’s goal is to raise awareness about how making simple, healthy lifestyle changes can improve the health of the city’s families as well as improve the productivity and effectiveness of its businesses.

The task force, comprised of community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and leaders at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial, chose to tackle factors dramatically causing obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases as its first initiative, specifically as it relates to business productivity and employee-related health care costs.

These efforts are also planned to benefit the entire community: children, families, and seniors.

For more information about the Healthy Lodi Initiative, please visit www.healthylodi.com or call the chamber at 209-367-7840.

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