Many groups have attempted to quantify obesity-related costs to the economy, with varying results. However, all groups agree in their main conclusions – Americans are significantly fatter as a nation, and the resulting collective costs to our economy are rising. Consider the following statistics:
- Population Numbers – The Journal of American Medicine (JAMA) recently estimated that 78.6 million adult Americans are classified as obese, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater – that is almost 35% of the total adult population.
The rate of change is startling. All states reported obesity rates at or below 14% in 1990. By 2010, the obesity rate was up to 25% or greater in 36 states, with 12 of those having rates over 30%.
- Medical Expenses – A study based on data from the U.S. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) determined that 6% of medical costs (a nearly $42 billion share in 2008 dollars) had root causes in obesity.
A later study based on more comprehensive data from the National Health Expenditure Accounts database concluded that obesity could be blamed for up to $147 billion in 2006. Meanwhile, a different group estimated the 2005 bill at $190 billion, accounting for 21% of all medical spending.
The future is equally grim. The Brookings institution estimated that $14.3 billion per year in costs could be attributed solely to obesity in children.
- Business Costs – According to Forbes, between obesity-related absenteeism, disabilities, and generally reduced productivity, American businesses absorbed approximately $130 billion in obesity costs in 2011.
The Society of Actuaries estimated obesity-related productivity costs at $164 billion annually, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation projects a rise to $580 billion annually by 2030 unless current trends are halted.
- Government Costs – Medicare and Medicaid absorb approximately $62 million per year in obesity costs – costs that are taxpayer-supported.
- Transportation – Fuel usage for airlines increased by 350 million gallons (2000 data) and automobile gas costs increased by 938 million gallons per year while hauling our extra weight around (as compared to our average weight in 1960, according to Forbes).
- Individual Costs – Through indirect costs, like higher premiums and lost wages from absenteeism, in 2010, obesity was estimated to cost an extra $2,646 per year for obese men and $4,879 per year for obese women. Items like extra food costs and outsized clothing add approximately $140 billion in indirect costs, according to data from 2011.
How do we solve this problem? The solution to obesity is not complex – eat less and exercise more.
That is simple to outline, but difficult to execute, and generally impossible to enforce through punitive measures (despite the efforts of some politicians and advocacy groups). Willpower and positive messages are the only way to produce real changes.
It all starts with learning healthy eating habits as a child. We must teach our children a healthy approach to food, and model these behaviors in ourselves, to help them deal with the temptations later in life when they are responsible for their own diet and exercise habits.
Meanwhile, if you are suffering from obesity or heading in that direction, take charge of your life and decide it is important for you to become thinner and healthier.
Positive momentum is important. Set a goal, and work toward it daily. Do not dwell on setbacks, and emphasize the positive results. Celebrate the loss of each pound and each dollar that you saved on groceries.
Eventually, you will lose weight, be healthier, and reduce the collective burden – on your health, your bank account, and indirectly on the U.S. economy. Your body and your scale will thank you for the reduced burden.