Report: Obesity rising among Arkansas state, school workers


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LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— The obesity rate in Arkansas has increased among public school and state employees and their spouses, costing the state more money to provide health coverage, according to a report.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement’s analysis reveals that nearly 48% of such workers and their partners who completed an online health survey last year reported a height and weight classifying them as obese, compared to about 44% the year before. It found that the average cost to its health plan of covering an obese employee or spouse was $690, compared with $535 for a non-obese worker or partner.

The center, which is an arm of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, presented the report Monday to the State and Public School Life and Health Insurance Board, which administers the health plans covering state and school workers, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The plans cover approximately 158,000 people, including workers and retirees and their spouses and dependents.

Mike Motley, the center’s analytics director, and Izzy Montgomery, a policy analyst, told the board that the rise in the obesity rate was analogous to the statewide trend among all Arkansas adults.

Around 37.1% of Arkansas adults were considered obese in 2018, a jump from 35% a year earlier, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey.

The increase among state and school employees comes despite an online weight-loss program that the board started offering last year to a limited number of workers.

Since 2012, a state law has also required that the health plans annually cover up to $6 million worth of weight-loss surgeries for morbidly obese employees under a trial project slated to last until at least 2021.

Chris Howlett, director of the Arkansas Department of Transformation and Shared Services’ Employee Benefits Division, which manages the health plans, said he plans to meet in November with the companies hired to help employees manage chronic conditions to develop more proposals on measures that could reduce workers’ health care expenses.

“We’re going to dial in a little bit harder on some of the areas where we need the most help,” Howlett said.

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