CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — It’s your choice. Buy a $50 pair of sneakers now or pay $57,000 for heart bypass surgery later.

The active lifestyle message is part of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee’s ongoing Your Choice campaign, designed to educate Tennessee businesses and their employees that when it comes to the cost of health care their choices can make a difference.

Unhealthy lifestyle choices are a big contributor to rising health care costs. In particular, obesity and its many associated conditions and diseases are a major factor in billions of direct and indirect health care expenses.

The National Institutes of Health estimate that health problems caused by being overweight or obese result in an annual $120 billion health care price tag for the United States.

In Tennessee, the Department of Health calculated $1.8 billion in obesity medical expenditures for adults during 2003.

“Those costs affect what you pay for your health plan,” said Dr. Steve Coulter, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BlueCross. “Tennesseans need to know that good choices not only improve their personal health but also reduce the need for and potential cost of medical services.”

According to the journal Health Affairs, an obese individual’s costs for health care increase by 36 percent and medication costs rise by 77 percent compared to the “general” public.

Everyone has the power to help control health care costs by taking steps to keep a healthy weight or lose weight.

Whether it’s a brisk 30-minute-a-day walk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or eating a nutritious, low-calorie diet, people can do simple things to improve their health.

“There are numerous ways to work physical fitness into your life,” Coulter said. “People should talk to their doctors about an exercise plan and diet that works for them.”

The Your Choice campaign’s Active Lifestyle message is part of a series of health care cost topics and customizable materials available on a two-CD toolkit. The kit is free of charge to fully insured and self-funded BlueCross group accounts. To order a CD or for more information on the campaign, send an e-mail to YourChoice@bcbst.com.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.