Almost 1 in 16 children are morbidly obese in the United States. These children all have a greater risk of many illnesses, self-harm and premature death. “Obesity during childhood and adolescence is associated with a wide range of illnesses, negative social consequences, and poor academic performance,” the American Journal of Preventive Medicine said. The national obesity rate among ages 2 to 19 rose from 19.3% in 2019 to 22.4% in 2020, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The national average for youths who are morbidly obese (those who are 100 pounds over their recommended weight) is 6.1%.
Poor nutrition, stress and a loss of physical activity when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic appear to be worsening the problem of childhood obesity nationally and in Connecticut. Nationally, obesity among youth ages 2 to 19 increased from 19.3% in 2019 to 22.4% in 2020, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The same age group saw the rate of increase in their body mass index (BMI) double during the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The heaviest youths experienced the highest gains. In Connecticut, the obesity rate among ages 10 to 17 rose from 13.3% in 2018-19 to 15.3% in 2019-2020, according to the Johnson Foundation report.
When the pandemic began, LaVita King of Bridgeport worried about how she would continue to see her behavioral health therapist and primary care physician at Southwest Community Health Center. She lives close enough to walk to the federally qualified health center but didn’t feel comfortable leaving her home in those early days, let alone venturing into a medical office. But she’s been able to access care through phone and video chats. “For me, it’s been such a lifesaver, such a blessing,” said King, 69. “Otherwise, I would not have been able to talk to my behavioral health therapist for this whole entire time.
As a nation, we are fat and getting fatter—and that means something entirely different for men than it does for women. On the medical side, a recent study says that obesity is three times more deadly for men than it is for women. The study, published in the July edition of the British medical journal The Lancet included 3.9 million adults in Europe and North America. The adults were between the ages of 20 and 90, none of them smoked, and none had any known chronic disease. So here’s irony: Though obesity is far more dangerous for men, women suffer the most social pressure over it, from the dieting industry, from their employers, and even from medical professionals.
Morbidly obese individuals who had weight loss surgery are seeking treatment for eating disorders years after their procedure, prompting concerns among some experts about the assessment process used to identify surgical candidates. “They are terrified of gaining the weight back,” said Dr. Sara Niego, medical director of the Eating Disorders Program at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living, who has treated patients with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder years after weight loss surgery. The lack of a national “gold standard” to psychologically assess prospective patients has led Connecticut mental health professionals to call for standardized criteria to identify those who are at risk before and after surgery. They worry some patients with mental health problems may slip through the cracks because each hospital and insurance company has different psychological screening requirements. “Unfortunately, there is no consensus in the field regarding what constitutes a psychological evaluation or what would prohibit an individual from obtaining surgery from a psychological standpoint,” said Kimberly Daniels, a clinical psychologist with the Center for Weight Loss Surgery at Middlesex Hospital.
Hospital administrators in Connecticut who have been involved in the unprecedented streak of mergers and consolidations often tout the financial benefits and efficiencies of such moves. But as the number of independent hospitals in the state dwindles – with more than half of the 29 acute-care hospitals now operating in networks with other hospitals or out-of-state partners – experts and advocates worry that the consolidations will reduce competition in the market and give hospitals more leverage to raise prices. Adding to their concerns is a proposal by a private company to convert four non-profit hospitals to for-profit entities. Several studies, as well as data from the federal Medicare program, suggest that mergers and for-profit conversions may lead to higher prices. But the state has yet to study the impact of mergers on patient pricing, and has no requirement that hospitals try to hold patient charges steady after a merger or conversion. The state also has no comprehensive blueprint guiding hospital configuration or limiting the number of takeovers or networks it will allow.
Connecticut has saved an estimated $5.4 million in Medicare costs since 2010 by reducing re-hospitalizations of patients through a collaborative “communities of care” model in place in 14 regions around the state, including Hartford, New Haven, Milford, Meriden and Torrington. The estimate by Qualidigm, the state’s Medicare quality improvement organization, coincides with a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that showed a marked decrease in both hospitalizations and readmissions of Medicare patients in regions where quality improvement organizations (QIOs) coordinate interventions that engage community partners to improve care after discharge. Hospital clinicians and their community partners in the 14 regions of Connecticut have stepped up “to find solutions (so that) patients are benefitting from enhanced coordination among providers across the care continuum,” said Dr. Mary Cooper, vice president and chief quality officer of the Connecticut Hospital Association, which is working with Qualidigm on the “communities of care” model. Readmitting Medicare patients to the hospital within a month of discharge is a frequent—and expensive — occurrence. A new report published this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that hospitals and their community allies made little progress from 2008 to 2010 at reducing readmissions for elderly patients.