Nearly 36% of U.S. adults are obese, and are therefore at increased risk for potentially deadly conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. People who are obese also suffer from an array of less serious conditions, such as chronic pain, gallstones, and sleep disorders, that are costly to treat and impact quality of life.

Obesity doesn’t just create health problems; it creates a significant financial burden for individuals and the overall health care system. 

Researchers at Duke Medicine found in 2013 that health care costs increase as a person’s body mass index (BMI) rises. Medical care, including doctor’s appointments and prescription drugs, is costly. The most expensive condition related to obesity researchers identified was cardiovascular disease.

People who are obese can spend more than double on health care than people of normal body weight. 

The study found people with a BMI of 19—at the low end of normal—spent $2,368 on health care annually. For people with BMIs 45 or higher, this cost climbed to $4,880. 

Nationally, obesity costs people in the U.S. $147 billion annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although patients pay for most of the health care costs, government spending in Medicare and Medicaid would drop by 8.5% and 12% respectively were it not for obesity, according to a study published in Health Affairs. 

Costs associated with obesity come not only from medical care, but also time missed from work and larger health insurance premiums paid by employers. Obesity has a personal cost, as well.

People who are significantly overweight also tend to earn less money than their thinner colleagues. 

Obesity has also been linked to lower wages because overweight people face discrimination from the labor market, according to John Cawley, a professor at Cornell University. A study from Middle Tennessee University found people who were obese earned 2.5% less than workers in similar professions who weigh less.

Cawley says obese people are less likely to land job interviews and receive accolades during performance reviews. No federal laws combat this issue, but awareness is growing.

What do you think about the link between obesity and increased health care costs?

Image by Images Money via Flickr


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