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Why It Is In Our Best Economic Interest to Fight Obesity

Why It Is In Our Best Economic Interest to Fight Obesity
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Written by Emilie Openchowski

There’s little doubt that obesity—having a body mass index count higher than 30, when a healthy number is between 18.5 and 24.9—and its negative health consequences are some of the greatest challenges our society faces today. A recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this month predicts that 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030, and 11 percent of the population will be severely obese—or roughly 100 pounds overweight—by that year.

These rates mean an additional 32 million people would be characterized as obese—triple the number it was half a century ago—causing the health care costs of obesity to rise by a stunning $550 billion over the next two decades. If something isn’t done to counter this trend—regardless of whether Obamacare is ruled constitutional in the Supreme Court—health care costs will be more than unaffordable for the average American and maybe for our country as a whole.

Obesity in America

Currently, approximately one-third of the U.S. adult population and 17 percent of American adolescents are obese. These Americans are much more likely to develop obesity-related ailments requiring medical treatment—such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and kidney failure—than their healthy counterparts. One study published in January in the Journal of Health Economics found that annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271, compared to the $512 for a nonobese person. This adds an estimated $190 billion per year in health care spending as a result of obesity, or 20.6 percent of total health care expenditures in America. Being severely obese can increase health care costs by approximately 50 percent.

Obesity-related health care costs are partly paid for by nonobese Americans through taxes to support Medicare and Medicaid and higher overall insurance premiums. In much the same way that nonsmokers end up paying in part for health care costs associated with smoking tobacco, or the insured pay for emergency care for the uninsured, everyone shoulders the burden for needed health services. This means we all can expect taxes and premiums to soar if the number of obese people grows as projected.

Aside from the financial cost of obesity, the societal and physical costs are also incredibly debilitating. The effects of obesity on worker productivity are high: Obese men take 5.9 more sick days per year and obese women take 9.4 more sick days per year than do their healthy counterparts. This absenteeism costs employers up to $6.4 billion per year and therefore has serious implications on our economy’s overall health.

Studies also show that obesity-related illness can affect worker productivity even when employees are at work. According to Eric Finkelstein, Duke University health economist and lead author of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine study, obese workers can lose up to one month of productive work per year just from being unable to keep up physically at work. At a rate of $3,792 per month per obese male worker and $3,037 per month per obese female worker, this “presenteeism” means a bottom-line loss for employers of $30 billion per year.

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46 comments

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7:14AM PDT on Apr 3, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:24PM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

Actually, people DO choose to become fat. with every fattening food they eat, with every skipped workout, with every bad choice. They choose that lifestyle. You do not simply wake up fat. Period. The people who CHOOSE this life look unhealthy and often look disgusting. They set a very bad example for their children. They are not healthy and sometimes are so large they have to draw disability. If they have a LEGITAMENT reason (thyroid issues ect) that is different, but even then there are others in their place who have chosen to take charge and be healthy

5:35AM PDT on Aug 3, 2012

Obesity is a public health issue. It would help to get more vegetables and fruit into "food deserts". Support your local soup kitchen and/or community garden. Willimantic is lucky enough to have both and needs both because it has a LOT of poor persons.

9:32AM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

Gee that's a tough one but it boils down to obese people are symbols of human greed and laziness and the human race should be collectively embarrassed to have so many fat slobs running around in the world when children starve every day

1:32PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

short term, there's money in obesity

7:28PM PDT on Jun 1, 2012

So why are there so many poor people in this country? Seems that perhaps this is the first and foremost topic that should be addressed here. I don't see obesity as a problem in Europe. I do see it in Australia and the UK (ok, they're in Europe, but talk to a Brit, and they love their little island to be something different, and the rest of Europe mutually agrees with them). Back to the topic at hand. Maybe this country needs to omit the cheaper food option altogether. Could do loads of good for the environment, too. There, a double whammy. I actually think that once all the "non-foods" in the supermarket have gone, prices of real food will drop, as things such as corn etc. will no longer need to be grown in such mass production that there will be more room for a versatile garden of vege's!

3:20PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Beth and Monika, I doubt that anyone chooses to become fat.

What is at issue, is the fact that when it becomes abundantly clear that one is beginning to lose the battle of the bulge...they choose to do nothing but continue to eat all the wrong foods and too much of it.

Personally, I have a reoccurring nightmare, it goes like this.

I am in a WalMart store, innocently I am walking down an isle when all of a sudden I realize that I cannot exit the isle due to two rather large women, munching on full, uncooked chickens, one still had the feathers on it. While planning my escape, I turned, when I realize there are three more on the opposite end of the isle. Rats, I promised God that I would never again use his name in vain, at least not while eating. Unless the food was really good.

For a moment, I thought that I might be able to distract the herd and slip by, I reached for a case of Mac and Cheese, I threw the few boxes down but they bounced of the stock shelves and all of a sudden all 5 of these women moved in on the boxes, like a group of sub-compacts and there was this horrible sound, that of a crash.

The good news is the doctors feel that I might once again regain use my arms and legs.

God, forgive me, I have come to hate fat people. Save the nation, bring in the drones, level all WalMarts on a busy, 2 for 1 lard sale. That ought to rid of near ½ of the herd, though it might cause the earth to shift on its axis.

3:19PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Beth and Monika, I doubt that anyone chooses to become fat.

What is at issue, is the fact that when it becomes abundantly clear that one is beginning to lose the battle of the bulge...they choose to do nothing but continue to eat all the wrong foods and too much of it.

Personally, I have a reoccurring nightmare, it goes like this.

I am in a WalMart store, innocently I am walking down an isle when all of a sudden I realize that I cannot exit the isle due to two rather large women, munching on full, uncooked chickens, one still had the feathers on it. While planning my escape, I turned, when I realize there are three more on the opposite end of the isle. Rats, I promised God that I would never again use his name in vain, at least not while eating. Unless the food was really good.

For a moment, I thought that I might be able to distract the herd and slip by, I reached for a case of Mac and Cheese, I threw the few boxes down but they bounced of the stock shelves and all of a sudden all 5 of these women moved in on the boxes, like a group of sub-compacts and there was this horrible sound, that of a crash.

The good news is the doctors feel that I might once again regain use my arms and legs.

God, forgive me, I have come to hate fat people. Save the nation, bring in the drones, level all WalMarts on a busy, 2 for 1 lard sale. That ought to rid of near ½ of the herd, though it might cause the earth to shift on its axis.




2:57PM PDT on May 30, 2012

Beth and Monika, I doubt that anyone chooses to become fat.

What is at issue, is the fact that when it becomes abundantly clear that one is beginning to lose the battle of the bulge...they choose to do nothing but continue to eat all the wrong foods and too much of it.

Personally, I have a reoccurring nightmare, it goes like this.

Don't get me started about shopping at Walmart. All of a sudden you spot two rather large women blocking your path, you turn to flee and realize that there are 3 more, what you do?

9:13AM PDT on May 30, 2012

Actually Monica, you did say that.

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