Editor’s note: This commentary is by Kevin Mullin, of Rutland, a former 19-year member of the Vermont General Assembly and current chair of the Green Mountain Care Board.
Medical costs in Vermont related to asthma, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease have increased from $1.52 billion in 2010 to $2.04 billion in 2015. According to the Vermont Department of Health, the costs related to chronic diseases are expected to continue increasing by 75 percent from 2010 to 2020. The Vermont Department of Health points to poor diet as one of the three main factors responsible for these diseases.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the adult obesity rate in Vermont has steadily climbed from 10 percent in 1990 to over 25 percent currently. In fact, more than six out of 10 Vermonters are now at an unhealthy weight. Our youngest Vermonters are already on the same path as the adult population; almost 30 percent are overweight or obese. The poor health caused by obesity and the escalating medical costs are an increasing burden on Vermont.
We must act before the problem gets worse. By establishing healthy eating patterns early on, we can prevent diet-related diseases. This is why as a state senator, I introduced legislation that would ensure that restaurant kids’ meals meet nutrition standards, including the default beverage. Soda and sugary drinks are the largest source of calories in a child’s diet, contributing to half of their sugar intake. Each additional serving of a sugary drink consumed per day increases a child’s chance of becoming overweight by 60 percent.