Nonprofit hospitals urged to incorporate obesity in community health benefits

Nonprofit hospitals should address obesity to qualify for tax-exempt status under federal community health benefit requirements in the Affordable Care Act, according to the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance.

"With the federal value of the hospital tax benefit estimated to be in the billions of dollars, there is a lot at stake," Scott Kahan, M.D., director of the alliance, said this week in a statement.

Noting that obesity affects more than a third of adults and 17 percent of children nationwide, the alliance recommends five research-based opportunities to tailor community benefit activities around obesity.

The recommendations include identifying and encouraging best practices for obesity treatment, such as counseling, which has proven effective in controlling weight. The alliance also called on hospitals to motivate payers and employers to implement innovative approaches around these treatments.

Following the recommendation to reduce the obesity stigma might not be easy, as a study last week from Johns Hopkins Medicine found doctors show less concern and empathy for obese patients.

In Rhode Island, hospitals already are making obesity a priority, the Providence Journal reported. The Hospital Association of Rhode Island's (HARI) community health needs assessment revealed the number of Rhode Islanders overweight and who have borderline diabetes exceeds the national average. As a result, individual hospitals will adopt plans that address obesity among key health issues, with possible regional and statewide collaboration, according to the HARI assessment.

In addition to a community health issue, obesity costs the healthcare system $190 billion a year. But hospital leaders like Okmulgee (Okla.) Memorial Hospital CEO George N. Miller Jr. are sensing a financial opportunity to address the fully preventable and treatable condition.

"As obesity reverses, co-morbid conditions decrease, costs drop and mortality declines. Imagine the savings--in dollars and lives--we could achieve with successful weight management education," Miller wrote last month in a Hospital Impact blog post.

For more:
- read the announcement and recommendations
- here's the Providence Journal article
- check out the HARI assessment (.pdf)