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Today's health problems are tomorrow's health crises

Data: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The health troubles we're seeing now — especially among young people — will continue to strain the system for years and even decades to come.

The big picture: Rising obesity rates now will translate into rising rates of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The costs of the opioid crisis will continue to mount even after the acute crisis ends. And all of this will strain what’s already the most expensive health care system in the world.

By the numbers: 18% of American kids are now obese, according to new CDC data. So are roughly 40% of adults. And it's projected to get worse.

  • That helps explain why diabetes rates are also rising, and why roughly 30% of adults have high blood pressure.

Why it matters: More obese children means there will be more adults down the road with chronic conditions like diabetes — which can’t be cured, only managed — and these diseases in turn increase the risk of further complications, such as kidney disease and stroke.

  • Diabetes roughly doubles your lifetime health care bills, according to the CDC, and costs the U.S. a total of $245 billion per year.
  • As the price of insulin continues to skyrocket, the disease only gets harder for patients to manage, if they can afford treatment at all.

We’re only beginning to see the full costs of the opioid crisis, even though it has raged for years.

  • A White House report earlier this week pegged the cost of the epidemic at a staggering $696 billion last year alone, including the cost of productivity lost to addiction.
  • The tide has only barely begun to turn on overall overdose deaths — they still numbered around 68,000 last year.
  • And many survivors of the epidemic will face long-term health costs. Addiction recovery can be a lifelong process requiring sustained investments. It has also led to skyrocketing rates of Hepatitis C — some states have seen their infection rates rise by more than 200% over the past decade.

Groundbreaking new treatments offer the first-ever cure for Hepatitis C, but at price tags so high that states are experimenting with entirely new ways of paying for the drugs, fearing the status quo simply can’t bear these costs all at once.

The bottom line: The flaws in the U.S. health care system compound one another.

  • They reward doctors and hospitals for performing more treatment on sick people, and those treatments are expensive. That leaves big gaps in prevention, which drives the need for more expensive treatment.
  • That's how we ended up with the world's most expensive health care system, but without a particularly healthy population to show for it. And that trajectory isn't changing.