Obesity causes poorer health, which in turn translates into higher medical and health care costs. For example, the obese are more likely to suffer from ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. On top of that, there are also other ways in which obese people have to, quite literally, pay the price for their size. A recent Newsweek article published in August 2008 has outlined five main ways in which obesity results in tangible financial costs.
Financial Costs of Obesity
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people being overweight, as well as the related health problems of obesity, put a significant economic strain on the US health care system.
Broadly speaking, being overweight or obese involves direct and indirect costs. The former includes preventive, diagnostic and treatment services, while the latter includes morbidity costs and mortality costs. Mortality costs measure the value of future income which is lost because of premature death, while morbidity costs take into account the value of income lost because of factors such as bed days, restricted activity, absenteeism, as well as decreased productivity.
Using data from the 1998 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) and the National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS) of 1996 and 1997, a study had found that medical costs relating to being overweight or obese formed 9.1% of the total medical expenditure in the US in 1998, a figure which could have been as much as US$78.5b. This translates to about US$92.6b in 2002 dollars. Medicaid and Medicare paid for about half of the amount.
Here are five ways in which obese people have to bear the financial consequences for their condition.
1. Higher Medical Costs
The most direct and obvious financial cost of being obese is, of course, higher medical costs. “The Fattening of America” by Eric Finkelstein and Laurie Zuckerman estimates that an overweight male’s annual medical cost is $170 more than one who is lighter, while the corresponding figure for females is $495.
In addition, hospitals incur higher costs in treating obese patients. For example, an oversized wheelchair can cost about $2,500, which is a whopping eight times the cost of a normal one. Also, an operating table which is sturdy enough to take the weight of a severely obese person can cost $30,000.
2. Lower Average Income
According to a study conducted at Stanford University, obese men and women earned an average income which was $3.41 per hour lower than their peers. This adds up to over $7,000 a year.
The income gap was found to be smaller when comparing young workers, although it gets bigger over time.
It is a possibility that this difference may be partly linked to higher health care costs – researchers said that employers have a tendency pay less to obese workers while footing their insurance bills. It could thus be a subconscious reaction by employers for having to pay higher insurance premiums for heavier employees.
3. Loss of Work Hours
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, an obese worker tends to lose, on average, about a week of work every year, because of health conditions which are related to them being overweight.
The Fattening of America estimates that a company with 1,000 workers loses about $285,000 every year due to obese workers, and that about 30 percent of this figure can be attributed to higher levels of absenteeism.
4. Use of More Gasoline
The heavier one is, the more gasoline one’s car or transport vehicle would have to use. In 2006, the journal The Engineering Economist published a study which stated that Americans used 938 million more gallons of fuel annually when compared to 1960, by virtue of their now bigger frames. Translated to concrete costs, this works out to about an additional gas expenditure of $3.55b per year.
5. Higher Cost of Air Travel
Then there are higher air travel costs. Budget airlines such as Southwest require passengers who are obese or who may need more than one seat to purchase a sufficient number of seats on the flight.
Further, just like for cars and ground vehicles, planes also have to burn more fuel to ferry heavier passengers. In the 1990s, the average weight of an American increased by 10 pounds. This, according to a 2004 CDC report, translated to $275m spent on an additional 350 million gallons of fuel needed to carry all that extra weight.
The Road Ahead – We Need to Cut Down on Obesity
Obesity in countries which consume a lot of fast food and processed foods is fast becoming an epidemic. Recently, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that, unless the eating and exercise habits of Americans change, a staggering 86% of Americans will be overweight or obese come 2030. According to the CDC, over one third of adults in the US, or more than 72 million people, were obese in 2005 and 2006.
The numbers do not look good at all and it is clear things need to change.
Is obesity preventable, as well as “curable”, so to speak? There are, after all, some parties who believe that being overweight has its roots in bad genes, and thus nothing can be done about it.
Of course genes play a part. Obesity, like all health conditions, has a genetic element. Some people, for example, are more susceptible to cancer than others, while some are more prone to diabetes.
But to suggest that nothing can be done about being overweight or obese is not in line with the overall principles of natural health. In natural health, all diseases and conditions are grounded in nutritional / dietary and lifestyle factors, which include elements such as the presence of environmental toxins.
For example, if an obese person leaves pizzas, sodas, candy bars, potato chips, burgers and fries behind, and begins to undertake a diet full of raw fruits and vegetables, it is virtually guaranteed that he or she will lose weight. Throw in some daily exercise, and the effects are magnified.
Of course, if one has a bodily constitution which is of the heavier or bigger side, then one would have to work harder and exercise more commitment in keeping fit and trim. This applies to every aspect of life. Some people have to train harder to run as fast, some have to work harder for the same output in the office, while some people need more sleep.
If you are already overweight, doing your bit to cut down on your weight will go a long way in benefiting not just your health, but also your wallet.
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