The Physical and Fiscal Impacts of Obesity

The United States has a proud history of leading the world – of being No. 1 – in numerous categories, fields, and endeavors. Unfortunately, that proud tradition now extends to the fact that America currently holds the top spot when it comes to obesity.


Consider these sobering statistics:


• Two thirds of U.S. adults are overweight and one-third are obese;

• In 1990, no state had an obesity rate of more than 19%; by 2010, no state had an obesity rate of less than 20%.


Based on these statistics, it’s fair to conclude that – in America – being overweight is the “new normal.” And that “new normal” brings with it a high price – both physically and fiscally.


Physical Impact

From a physical perspective, obesity is now the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and it’s forecast to soon overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause. Experts further forecast that, if current trends continue, life expectancy in America will decline; meaning, children today will have shorter life spans than their parents.


Obesity brings with it life-threatening health problems, and someone who is 40-percent overweight is twice as likely to die prematurely compared to a normal-weight person. Specifically, the health hazards associated with obesity – a person is considered obese if he or she weighs at least 20-percent more than the maximum healthy weight for his or her height – include:


• heart disease and stroke;

• high blood pressure;

• diabetes;

• cancer;

• gallbladder disease;

• osteoarthritis;

• gout;

• breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma.



Fiscal Impact

While obesity is projected to soon supplant smoking as the leading cause of preventable death, obesity already has surpassed smoking when it comes to costs.


According to a Lehigh University study published in the Journal of Health Economics, the U.S. obesity epidemic is adding an astounding $190 billion to America’s annual health-care expenditures. The study’s authors reported that obese men annually accrue an additional $1,152.00 in medical spending, primarily resulting from hospitalizations and prescription medications. The tab for obese women totals an extra $3,613.00 yearly. Researchers additionally have estimated that if current U.S. trends continue – by 2030 – obesity-related medical costs could rise by $48 to $66 billion a year.


The fiscal footprint of obesity is far-reaching. While it’s not surprising to learn that the additional medical charges that accompany obesity are subsidized collectively by society in the form of increased insurance premiums, it is surprising to discover that the growing girth of Americans can be measured at the gas pump. That, at least, is the contention of a University of Illinois researcher who calculates that the extra weight carried by vehicles transporting those who are obese or overweight causes one- billion additional gallons of gasoline to be burned annually.


Lawmakers Weigh In

The upward trend of obesity has not gone unnoticed by lawmakers. For example, as a result of the Affordable Care Act, employers are allowed to charge obese employees – specifically, those who’ve refused to participate in a qualified wellness/weight-loss program – from 30- to 50-percent more in the cost of their health-benefits contribution.


As many business owners can likely attest, obese employees have more days off due to short-term absences and long-term disability than do non-obese personnel. Additionally, some studies have shown that obese employees may work at less than full capacity.




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Mike Spasoff