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Cost of Obesity
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Obesity is Costly

  • In 2000, obesity-related health care costs totaled an estimated $117 billion.
  • Between 1987 and 2001, diseases associated with obesity account for 27% of the increases in medical costs.
  • Medical expenditures for obese workers, depending on severity of obesity and sex, are between 29%–117% greater than expenditures for workers with normal weight.
  • From 1979–1981 to 1997–1999, annual hospital costs related to obesity among children and adolescents increased, rising from $35 million to $127 million.

Halting Obesity Requires Policy and Environmental Change Initiatives

The determinants of obesity in the United States are complex, numerous, and operate at social, economic, environmental, and individual levels. American society has become ‘obesogenic,’ characterized by environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity. Public health approaches that affect large numbers of different populations in multiple settings—communities, schools, work sites, and health care facilities—are needed. Policy and environmental change initiatives that make healthy choices in nutrition and physical activity available, affordable, and easy will likely prove most effective in combating obesity.

The Health Consequences of Obesity

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancer (endometrial, breast, and colon)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Dyslipidemia (high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)
  • Stroke
  • Liver and gallbladder disease
  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
  • Osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and underlying bone within a joint)
  • Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

Economic impact

In addition to its health impacts, obesity leads to many problems including disadvantages in employment and increased business costs. These effects are felt by all levels of society from individuals, to corporations, to governments.

The estimate range for annual expenditures on diet products is $40 billion to $100 billion in the US alone. In 1998, the medical costs attributable to obesity in the US were $78.5 billion USD or 9.1% of all medical expenditures, while the cost of obesity in Canada was estimated at $2 billion CAD in 1997 (2.4% of total health costs).

Obesity prevention programs have been found to reduce the cost of treating obesity-related disease. However, the longer people live, the more medical costs they incur. Researchers therefore conclude that reducing obesity may improve the public's health, but it is unlikely to reduce overall health spending.

Obesity can lead to social stigmatization and disadvantages in employment. When compared to their normal weight counterparts, obese workers on average have higher rates of absenteeism from work and take more disability leave, thus increasing costs for employers and decreasing productivity.

Services must accommodate obese people with specialist equipment such as much wider chairs.

A study examining Duke University employees found that people with a BMI over 40 filed twice as many workers' compensation claims as those whose BMI was 18.5–24.9. They also had more than 12 times as many lost work days. The most common injuries in this group were due to falls and lifting, thus affecting the lower extremities, wrists or hands, and backs.The US state of Alabama Employees' Insurance Board approved a controversial plan to charge obese workers $25 per month if they do not take measures to reduce their weight and improve their health. These measures are set to start January 2010 and apply to those with a BMI of greater than 35 kg/m2 who fail to make improvements in their health after one year.

Some research shows that obese people are less likely to be hired for a job and are less likely to be promoted. Obese people are also paid less than their non-obese counterparts for an equivalent job. Obese women on average make 6% less and obese men make 3% less.

Specific industries, such as the airline and food industries, have special concerns. Due to rising rates of obesity, airlines face higher fuel costs and pressures to increase seating width.In 2000, the extra weight of obese passengers cost airlines US$275 million. Costs for restaurants are increased by litigation accusing them of causing obesity. In 2005 the US Congress discussed legislation to prevent civil law suits against the food industry in relation to obesity; however, it did not become law.