The Financial Costs of Obesity

What’s worse, dramatic new statistics show that unhealthy weight has increased at record levels over the past decade up from 25 percent of adults in 1980 to 34 percent today. As a result, an estimated 58 million adult Americans, or over a third of the adult population is overweight. This high incidence of obesity is particularly pronounced in minority populations, especially among women, and is rampant among low-income ethnic populations.Obesity is also a serious health problem for the nation’s children. Since 1980 there has been a 42% increase in childhood obesity rates. One out of five teenagers are now considered significantly overweight. What makes this jump in childhood obesity especially worrisome is that overweight in children is related to cardiovascular disease.

Escalating rates of obesity are considered a major public health threat because they are directly linked to a number of disabling and life-threatening diseases. Medical researchers calculate that 88 to 97 percent of all cases of Type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes, 57 to 70 percent of coronary heart disease cases, 11 percent of breast cancers, and 10 percent of colon cancers that are diagnosed in overweight Americans are attributable to obesity. Further, about a third of all cases of hypertension are thought to be due to obesity, while 70 percent of gallstone cases are attributable to being overweight. What’s more, unhealthy weight is associated with osteoarthritis and gout, along with a number of other disabling conditions.

For this reason, obesity is one of the most pervasive health risks affecting Americans today and is also a multibillion dollar drain on the U.S. economy. Medical researchers, using prospective studies and national health statistics, put the cost of obesity at more than $100 billion annually. This includes $45.8 billion in direct costs, such as hospital care and physician services-or 6.8 percent of all health care costs. Further, obesity costs the economy $18.9 billion a year for such indirect costs as lost output caused by death and disability from weight-related diseases. The number of work days lost to illness attributable to obesity amounts to 53.6 million days per year. This lost productivity costs employers an additional $4.06 billion annually.

These costs, while staggering, can clearly be reduced over time if the country puts it resources behind a national mobilization to promote healthy weight and increased physical activity. Central to this effort is the need to change public perceptions of obesity from an appearance problem to a disease that can be prevented, treated and successfully managed.

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