There may be a great divide in Washington, D.C., on how to move forward on well, pretty much anything. But if legislators have their ears to the ground here in California, they'll hear that their constituents regardless of party affiliation are in agreement about our most pressing health problems, and united in some of the ways to prevent them. I believe that California legislators will heed the call that the president made in his inaugural speech: we must move forward, together.
California Field Poll results released Tuesday from 12 California counties show that 94 percent of surveyed registered voters see obesity in the United States as a serious problem. And they think we need to do more to address it, along with other chronic diseases. They want more help from local governments, civic leaders, our legislators and businesses. They want more investments in the infrastructure that supports health: in parks, safe streets, and smoke-free environments.
Meanwhile, in Washington, lawmakers from across the country are set to slash public health funding that supports these kinds of efforts as part of the sequester.
In the midst of high-stakes negotiations and infinitesimally short-term deadlines, it's hard to keep our eyes on the prize. It's all too easy to sacrifice a good investment that will take time to pay off. But the numbers are hard to refute.
Preventable chronic disease remains responsible for the vast majority of our health care costs. Nearly 75 percent of health care spending goes to treat largely preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers. In 2011, 60.2 percent of all California residents were obese or overweight. If California residents lost an average of 5 percent of their body weight, California would save nearly $82 billion and prevent about 800,000 cases of diabetes.
The state of California is stepping up. Gov. Jerry Brown's "Let's Get Healthy Task Force" recently released a report that sets out a pathway for California to become the healthiest state in the nation over 10 years. Yes, this is a tall order, but the report by a blue-ribbon statewide task force and expert advisers establishes goals, priorities and a system for measuring progress toward important health goals that will help galvanize broad-based change.
Better health in California means a healthier economy. We all win.
California can't go it alone. Local governments are also depending on federal resources, such as the federally funded Community Transformation Grants, that provide almost every county in California with support to build healthier communities. They're taking simple, common-sense steps, such as making it easier for schoolchildren to find fresh drinking water rather than sugar-sweetened beverages at lunchtime. Or connecting people who have diabetes with a community health worker who can help them navigate and manage their health efficiently and effectively.
The survey showed California voters want things like smoke-free housing and for their kids to be able to walk to school safely. Their intuitive support echoes what the science shows: these strategies work. Across the country, smart, comprehensive and communitywide efforts are beginning to dial back obesity among certain groups, by as much as 10 percent.
California can't afford to have these programs cut. County by county, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block and acre by acre in our remotest counties we are transforming not just communities, but our statewide commitment to health and prosperity. As usual, California is ahead of the curve, but we need to invest every cent we have wisely to make our vision of health a reality.
The voters have spoken once more and they agree that neighborhood health is an urgent problem to tackle. Now it's time for community leaders and legislators to take up the cause. As usual, they have no time to waste.