Obesity – Costs of Being Overweight

Mar 3, 2009 by

Obesity – Costs of Being Overweight

Disease is costly, in more ways than one. And obesity is no different.

Some parties have set out to calculate certain costs associated with obesity, and these are highlighted in the following article.

Five Ways One Has To Pay the Price for Obesity

by Reuben Chow

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.

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