For years we have heard that America’s obesity is higher than any other country on planet Earth. It is estimated that two-thirds of the United States is either obese or overweight. This has lead researchers to study the reasons and results of this epidemic. Studies have focused on causes (trauma, genetics, self-esteem, stress, availability, coping, etc.) and effects (health, depression, relationships, etc.). A recent study has found that this epidemic is having a major impact on our nation’s economics.

The study completed in 2017 finds that one “healthy” but obese individual can impact society by tens of thousands of dollars. Traditionally, obesity has been viewed as an individual burden. This study finds that being overweight actually has a far reaching effect on society. An obese 50-year-old, with normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, will cost society more than $36,000. That figure includes direct medical care for obesity-related diseases, insurance costs, and lost work and time off, not only for the individual but their friends and family as well.

“When folks struggle with their weight, it ends up affecting everyone,” said senior researcher, Dr. Bruce Lee. Dr. Lee is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD. The study points to factors such as Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, and the 13 Cancers linked to obesity for the rise in insurance premiums. The more obese individuals who need additional care, the more the insurance companies have to charge its members to compensate and offset the costs.

If a 50-year-old obese individual can cost society more than $36,000 – imagine what an obese 20-year-old can cost! The study did look at this and found that there were ways to lessen the costs. If a 20-year-old could lose enough weight to drop to a category of “overweight” and maintain that level, he/she could cut the total cost of their lifetime by almost two-thirds. The good news is, even for a 70-year-old who drops to “overweight”, the savings are about 40 percent of the cost for staying obese.  “So weight loss is cost-saving at any age,” Dr. Lee said.

Ted Kyle, a spokesperson for the Obesity Society and founder of ConscienHealth, which advocates for “evidence-based approaches” to addressing obesity, has shared his thoughts, “This study really documents the costs of untreated obesity — which is the norm in this country”.  He said that Americans who are struggling with their weight usually just get “casual advice” from their doctors to eat better and exercise.

<As an example, he pointed to the Diabetes Prevention Program, which involves “intensive” counseling on diet, exercise and behavior modification; however, a large U.S. government study found that the program slashed the risk of type 2 diabetes among overweight, at-risk adults — after only a modest amount of weight loss. Kyle stance is that people “do not get the kind of help that research has shown to be effective.”  

Dr. Lee, when asked about the challenge of losing weight also stated, “…the biggest challenge is, of course, that you want permanent weight loss, not yo-yo dieting”. He went on to add, “There are no overnight solutions…It takes long-term changes in diet and physical activity. And for some people, medication or surgery are appropriate.”

Further study may be needed to determine which approach to weight loss is most cost effective (medication, surgery, diet & exercise, etc.), but what is clear is that the sooner you start your weight loss the more you and society save. For more information about weight loss, feel free to contact The Bariatric Center of Kansas City