Perhaps it’s fitting that Mesa County — where nearly three out of five adults are overweight or obese, according to the latest Mesa County Health Needs Assessment — should take a lead on tackling the nation’s obesity epidemic.

In November, the Colorado Medical Society voted to support increased taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and sugar-based beverages. Sentinel columnist Dr. Michael J. Pramenko touted the Mesa County Medical Society as leading the charge on this policy recommendation.

The group hopes state lawmakers will consider imposing the tax scheme to reduce unhealthy behaviors, but only if the revenues raised by the taxes can be directed primarily toward reducing health insurance premiums for people who take their health seriously.

The idea is to inject a risk/reward component into the health-care system, much like the auto insurance industry operates. Auto insurance rewards safe driving but penalizes high-risk, unhealthy behavior with higher rates.

It’s an idea ripe for consideration because the nation is getting fatter, raising the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer and other health problems that can be costly to treat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 40% of U.S. adults are obese. But new research by scientists at Harvard and George Washington universities predicts that by 2030, about 49% of U.S. adults will be obese. In 29 states, more than half of adults will be clinically obese.

“It’s alarming,” Dr. Lawrence Appel of Johns Hopkins University told the Associated Press. “We’re going to have some pretty awful problems” medically and financially because so many people weigh too much, he said.

The World Health Organization has compiled data that taxing sugary drinks is an effective way to reduce consumption of sugars. Estimates suggest that, over 10 years, a tax on sugary drinks of 1 cent per ounce in the United States would result in more than $17 billion in health-care cost savings.

Of course, expecting Congress to pass such a nationwide tax is unrealistic. It’s going to take a state showing how a sugar tax can reward healthy behavior and drive down health-care costs for the idea to gain wide acceptance.

“With enough support, Colorado could pilot this innovative health policy design for a nation in desperate need of more value per health care dollar,” Pramenko wrote on Dec. 12.

Mesa County physicians think it’s an idea worth trying. Hopefully, the Legislature will agree it’s time to get to the root of the chronic disease epidemic. Instead, they’re constantly focused on how to pay for the cost of treating the symptoms.

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