About two thirds of Americans are overweight, and about half of those are considered to be obese. (a body mass index of 30 or more) There have been a number of studies that attempt to show how obesity is taking a bite out of the U.S. economy, but it’s a hard number to really quantify.
Unlike more straight-forward costs, like what might be spent on medicines to treat a specific disease, the actual cost of obesity in America has far-reaching implications that we might not think of right away. So, having said that, let’s try to wrap our heads around some of these expenses.
- Obesity adds $190 billion in medical costs and healthcare resulting from obesity-related problems like heart disease, asthma, and Type 2 diabetes. That’s over 20% of the total annual health care costs in America, eclipsing even smoking-related costs.
- Obesity costs Medicare and Medicaid an estimated $62 billion dollars each year
- Consider that the average uninsured obese person costs a lot more to the American taxpayer. They cost the health care system about $3270 per year, compared to about $512 per year for the non-obese
- Obesity costs American companies over $170 billion each year in lost productivity, and sick days (absenteeism) taken due to obesity. A study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation showed that this cost of lost productivity could spiral to $580 billion per year by 2030
- Obese employees are about 25% more likely to go on disability, which directly raises insurance costs. A recent study by the Shell oil company showed that obese employees were twice as likely to use paid days off than employees who were not.
- Obesity costs us $4.5 billion at the gas pump! Think about this, if the average American weighed what they did in 1960, there would be a lot less weight to carry around in cars and airplanes. Each year we burn an extra 1.3 billion gallons of gas to transport overweight passengers
- Childhood obesity costs Americans about $14.3 billion dollars a year. Also consider that these children will likely be obese as adults as well
These are just some of the obvious costs of obesity in America. It’s easy to imagine an almost endless number of less obvious costs as well. Obese people are more likely to suffer from depression, cancer, and childhood ADHD just to name a few. Many hospitals and businesses have undertaken significant expenses to accommodate the obese, such as replacing wall-mounted toilets, and widening hallways. The resulting increased cost of employee-sponsored health insurance lowers profits and weighs on employees salaries.
So how much does obesity cost our economy? Although there are numbers out there starting at $500 billion per year, how could you possibly calculate the total cost of this far-reaching epidemic? How can you quantify the cost of the 300,000 annual obesity-related deaths, and the ripple effect that this has on America?
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The projections of the worsening obesity epidemic are truly frightening, and pose a profound risk to our economy.
Is there a solution? Well, there are a number of heated debates going on nationwide on how to address this issue, and it only complicates the matter that a number of large corporations fear that there own growth will suffer if Americans lose weight. You can imagine the implications to shareholders of Coca Cola or McDonalds if proposals like a soda tax were successful. That’s why soft drink makers, fast food chains, and supermarkets are spending millions of dollars to lobby congress to make sure Americans stay fat and (sick?) happy. Pharmaceutical companies have certainly fattened their profits on the back of this epidemic, and meaningful legislation that addresses obesity seems nearly impossible. Ugh!
Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Although the implications our our obesity epidemic are staggering, we can all certainly start addressing this on a personal level. If you need help, consider support from weight loss plans like Weight Watchers and Medifast.
- The economic costs of obesity – Harvard School of Public health
- Obesity now costs us more in healthcare spending than smoking – Forbes
- Does body weight affect cancer risk? – cancer.org
- Obesity consequences and causes – cdc.gov