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Obesity As An Expensive Social Problem: A Look At The Numbers

overweight female stomach strapped with measuring tap and lots of 100 dollar bills

It is no longer news that obesity causes health problems. Obesity increases a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, liver problems, some cancers, and sleep apnea. Structural stress on knees, hips, and the lower back cause excruciating pain and often require surgical repair.

Healthcare costs money. Surgical, lifestyle counseling and pharmaceutical prices continue to increase, costing health insurance companies, patients and the government exponentially more. So just how expensive is obesity in the United States?

HealthCare Costs And Obesity

According to the American Heart Association, obesity-related expenses put more stress on the health care system than smoking and alcoholism. Moreover, 9.1 percent of all adult’s medical costs are obesity-related.  

The cost of obesity to the healthcare system continues to increase. In 1998, obesity-related illnesses cost Americans $78 billion. In 2008, the cost was $147 billion. Though the American Heart Association does not account for inflation or the rise of health care costs outside of these numbers, obesity still requires a considerable amount of money to treat. Obesity-related treatments are now nearly 21 percent of all healthcare costs.

The medical costs of obese men and women also differ significantly, impacting women who are making less, yet whose insurance companies often charge more to insure. A recent article in the Journal of Health Economics reported that obese women pay an extra $3,613 dollars a year in medical expenses, while obese men spend an additional $1,152.

Employment, Insurance And Obesity

In addition to increasing healthcare costs, obesity also causes more people to miss work, decreasing their ability to work, and increasing disability levels.  

According to economists at Duke University, obesity-related absenteeism costs $6.4 billion a year, with obese women taking more than nine extra days off each year. The economists also discovered that very obese workers are not as productive when they are at work, costing employers an additional $30 billion yearly in a phenomenon the economists call “presenteeism.”

Obesity also increases the premium rates people pay for disability, health and life insurance. Because of the way insurance works in the United States, obesity affects all people’s rates, not just those who are obese. The Affordable Healthcare Act gives employers the ability to charge obese employees more for their health insurance coverage.

These insurance concerns are also addressed by Medicare and Medicaid, the federally and state-funded insurance programs. Historically, low-income Americans have been disproportionately affected by obesity, though high levels of obesity now affects all demographic groups. Medicare and Medicaid costs also increase as the number of patients seeking obesity-related treatment increases.

Infrastructure And Obesity

Additional healthcare costs, higher insurance rates and lower levels of productivity due to illness may be the first things that come to mind when considering the costs of obesity. The growing number of obese people also affects our nation’s infrastructure and services.

Hospitals and offices may choose to replace wall-mounted toilets, in order to prevent damage to the bathrooms, and public transportation costs increase because buses use more gas to transport obese people. Cars now burn more than one million more gallons of gas a year, because of increased passenger weight.   

In nearly all aspects of our lives—work, insurance and even infrastructure—obesity drains the American budget. 

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