News/Media Center

July 21, 2003

Healthy food choices can help control costs
by Ralph H. Weber, M.D., Vice president, medical affairs, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas

It might surprise you to know that the No. 1 health problem in the United States is not cancer, heart disease or arthritis. It is obesity, a condition that we have created for ourselves by the poor choices we make when it comes to our diet and nutrition.

Today, more than 60 percent of adults are overweight or obese. Health problems associated with being overweight or obese cost almost $120 billion in health care expenses each year, and are major contributors to the rising cost of health care.

The obesity epidemic is not limited to adults. According to recent studies, the number of young people who are overweight has almost doubled in the past 20 years for children aged 6-11, and almost tripled for adolescents aged 12-18.

A balanced diet – watching what you eat and how much – will not only help you feel better but also will help prevent diseases and illnesses that cost all of us in the long run. Many chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, skeletal problems and hypertension, are linked directly to poor diet and being overweight.

Many national health organizations, such as the American Dietetic, American Heart and American Diabetes associations offer nutritional guidelines for those interested in a more nutritional diet. The guidelines suggest that we should eat a variety of foods, and that we should eat in moderation. More specifically, we should:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. It is recommend that you eat five or more servings a day.
  • Eat more grain products. We should strive to eat six or more servings a day of bread, cereal, pasta or rice
  • Watch the amount of meat we eat. We should limit ourselves to no more than 6 ounces of cooked lean meat, fish and skinned poultry a day.
  • Scale back on the amount of salt and sugar that we consume.
  • Limit foods high in cholesterol, such as egg yolks, and liver and other organ meats.
  • Eat sparingly foods high in calories or low in nutrients, such as soft drinks and chips.
  • Read labels so we can choose fats with 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • Use cooking methods that require little or no fat, such as boiling, baking, roasting, steaming or microwaving.

A key to eating in moderation is to understand what a “serving” of food means. For example, a serving of pasta or cooked vegetables is the size of a tennis ball, cut in half. Also, three ounces of meat is the size of a cassette tape. And, a cup of fruit is the size of a baseball and the average bagel should be the size of a hockey puck.

Medical costs continue to rise as we continue to use more health care – and we’re all paying for it through higher insurance premiums, copayments and deductibles. So work with your doctor to devise a balanced diet that is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eating responsibly will help prevent the onset of chronic health problems and help control the increase in the amount we all pay for health care.

Remember that when you combine a healthy diet with regular exercise, you have a recipe for a long life.


Ralph H. Weber, MD, is vice president of medical affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas. He spent 10 years in private practice in Salina before joining the health insurer in 1988. He was promoted to vice president in 1990.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. BCBSKS is the state's largest health insurer, serving all Kansas counties except Johnson and Wyandotte.