Several new studies and reports have been published recently documenting the high costs of obesity to America and Americans.
According to these new research findings, obesity adds $190 Billion per year to health care costs, which is over 20% of all annual health care spending in America. In addition, obesity costs employers an additional $6.4 Billion per year due to higher absenteeism of obese workers and an additional $30 Billion per year due to lower productivity of obese workers, health economists have calculated.
“The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34 percent, while the incidence of extreme or “morbid” obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6 percent,” according to reporting by Reuters and MSNBC.
Nearly 69% of all U.S. adults are overweight or obese, according to a new documentary, “The Weight of The Nation,” to air on HBO on May 14 and 15. The documentary is based on data from the National Institutes of Health and the CDC.
“The startling economic costs of obesity, often borne by the non-obese, could become the epidemic’s second-hand smoke,” according to an April 30 report by Reuters.
“Only when scientists discovered that nonsmokers were developing lung cancer and other diseases from breathing smoke-filled air did policymakers get serious about fighting the habit, in particular by establishing nonsmoking zones. . . . Now, as economists put a price tag on sky-high body mass indexes (BMIs), policymakers as well as the private sector are mobilizing to find solutions to the obesity epidemic,” Reuters reported.
New Statistics on Costs of Obesity in America
Following is a summary of some of the new research findings on the costs of obesity to America and Americans:
- $190 Billion per year in additional health care costs due to obesity. Nationally, obesity adds an additional $190 Billion per year in medical spending to the nation’s health care costs, which amounts to 20.6 percent of all U.S. health care expenditures, according to a study by John Cawley, Health Economist of Cornell University, and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University that was reported in January in the Journal of Health Economics. Their study findings were based on data from 9,852 men (average BMI: 28) and 13,837 women (average BMI: 27) ages 20 to 64, among whom 28 percent were obese.
- Extra Medical Spending of $3,613 a year per obese woman and $1,152 a year per obese man. Obese men add an additional $1,152 a year to medical spending, especially for hospitalizations and prescription drugs, and obese women add an extra $3,613 per year in medical spending, according to the same study by Health Economists John Cawley and Chad Meyerhoefer. Among the uninsured: annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271 compared with $512 for the non-obese, the researchers found. “Where healthcare costs really take off is in the morbidly obese,” Dr. Cawley told Reuters.
- Non-Obese Americans pay higher health insurance premiums and taxes to support Medicaid due to higher health care costs of the obese. All of these additional health care costs due to obesity are passed along and shared by those who are not obese or even overweight. As reported by Reuters based on the Cawley and Meyerhoefer study, “Those extra medical costs are partly born by the non-obese, in the form of higher taxes to support Medicaid and higher health insurance premiums. Obese women raise such “third party” expenditures $3,220 a year each; obese men, $967 a year, Cawley and Meyerhoefer found.”
- Smoking increases medical costs by about 20% per year, while morbid obesity increases such costs by 50% per year. Surprisingly, the costs of obesity are even higher than those of smoking. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic published a paper in March in which they reported on the exact medical costs of 30,529 Mayo employees, adult dependents, and retirees over several years. They found that smoking added about 20 percent a year to medical costs, similar to obesity, but morbid obesity increased medical costs by 50 percent a year, according to Dr. James Naessens of the Mayo Clinic. “There really is an economic justification for employers to offer programs to help the very obese lose weight,” Dr. Naessens told Reuters.
Other health economists, including Eric Finkelstein of Duke University, explain that while smokers do incur higher medical costs per year than nonsmokers, their lifetime drain on public and private dollars is less because they die sooner. “But mortality isn’t that much higher among the obese,” Dr. Finkelstein explained.
“Beta blockers for heart disease, diabetes drugs, and other treatments are keeping the obese alive longer, with the result that they incur astronomically high medical expenses in old age just like their slimmer peers,” Reuters reported.
- Absenteeism from work due to obesity costs employers up to $6.4 Billion a year, according to calculations in a study led by Eric Finkelstein, a Health Economist of Duke University. The obese are absent from work more often than people of normal weight, because obesity increases the risk of a great number of medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain and others. According to the Finkelstein study, the most obese men take 5.9 more sick days a year than normal weight men, and the most obese women take 9.4 more sick days per year than women of healthy weight.
- Lower work productivity due to obesity costs employers an additional $30 Billion per year, according to the Finkelstein study. Obese workers are less productive, by an average of one month of productive work per year, as they contend with pain or shortness of breath or other obstacles to working productively, the study found. This lower productivity costs employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female obese worker per year, amounting to a total annual cost to employers of $30 Billion, Dr. Finkelstein and colleagues calculated.
- Obesity costs obese workers significant sums in reduced wages and lower likelihood of being hired or promoted. According to research by John Cawley, Health Economist of Cornell University, obese women earn about 11 percent less than women of healthy weight. “Decreased productivity can reduce wages, as employers penalize less productive workers.” … And, “Numerous studies have shown that the obese are less likely to be hired and promoted than their svelte peers are,” Reuters reported.
- Additional gasoline consumption caused by vehicle transportation of obese passengers costs an extra $4 Billion per year in added fuel costs in the U.S., according to a study by Sheldon Jacobson, an Engineer at the University of Illinois. It requires twice as much energy to move 250 pounds than 125 pounds, Jacobson explained to Reuters. As a result, a vehicle burns more gasoline in carrying heavier passengers than in carrying lighter ones.
“Growing obesity rates increase fuel consumption,” Jacobson explained. He calculated that an additional 938 million gallons of gasoline are burned in the U.S. each year due to obesity and overweight. This amounts to a 0.8 percent increase in the nation’s fuel consumption, which he calculated to cost approximately $4 Billion per year in extra fuel costs due to overweight and obesity.
- Extra jet fuel needed to fly heavier Americans costs an additional $5 Billion annually, compared to the cost of jet fuel that would be needed to fly Americans at average 1960 weights, the scientists estimated, as reported by Reuters and the Huffington Post.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Health Information website provides information on the new documentary, “The Weight of the Nation,” to air on HBO May 14 and 15, based on NIH research, as well as links to NIH information and research on weight control.
The Weight-control Information Network (WIN), an information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the NIH, provides up-to-date, science-based information on weight control, obesity, physical activity, and related nutritional issues.
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