The Economic Cost of Obesity

Obesity is bankrupting the US and the world. In the US alone, 1 in 3 kids are overweight and 1 in 6 are obese; 80% of obese teenagers will become obese adults; 1 in 2 adults are overweight and 1 in 3 are obese…..Every other developed country in the world is seeing increases in obesity, similar to those in the US. What’s  the problem with so many people carrying more weight than they need?

  • Diabetes: right now 8% of the US population has diabetes , but it accounts for 25% of healthcare costs.  The vast majority (80% to 90%) of diabetics have “type 2”, which  is highly preventable, just by maintaining a healthy weight. When a type 2 diabetic loses  just 5-10% of his/her body weight, diabetes improves and in some cases goes into remission. Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, foot/leg amputations, and cardiovascular disease.
  • Cardiovascular disease: The number one killer of Americans. Being overweight makes a person more apt to have high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, and high blood pressure–all of these increase risk for heart attack or stroke.
  • Arthritis: Extra weight puts more pressure on the joints, which can in turn cause “osteoarthritis” the type in which the cartilage becomes thinner and thinner until you have “bone on bone” and need a joint replacement. In the meantime, the pain of arthritis causes people to decrease activity, which in turns increases body-weight, and, you got it, causes them to gain more weight!
  • Many cancers: people who are overweight are at higher risk for breast, colon and prostate cancers.
  • Depression: Rates of depression are increased in people who are overweight or obese. This in turn often results in further decreased physical activity and increased eating….
  • Loss of productivity: Every time a person has to take time off work for a health issue that costs their employer in lost productivity, plus sick pay (if the person is lucky enough to have benefits). If health issues become severe enough, a person may have to quit work and live on “disibility”, which is paid through social security as well as private disability insurance plans…when this happens we have lost a worker and have to use social security dollars to support him/her.

The cost of all of the above is staggering! There are few people who are obese who do not have at least one of the above health issues–maybe it is just high blood pressure, but that costs money to treat, and if left untreated will result in far worse problems that will cost a lot more.

What can we as a society do?

  • Quit subsidizing unhealthy food production–the commodity foods that are subsidized by our government, end up being used to make extremely unhealthy, highly processed, high fat/sugar/salt foods.
  • Start subsidizing healthy foods and the farms that produce them–fruit and vegetable farmers, and small local family farms.
  • Promote prevention at all levels–we have recently seen the rates of pediatric obesity leveling off, but, we want to see them decrease.

The link above is a short video discussing the economic costs of obesity. Check it out!