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.
Photo from Thinkstock
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