Soaring Obesity Rates Cost US $215 Billion A Year

A new report released Tuesday by the Brookings Institution finds that obesity costs the U.S. $215 billion annually in direct medical expenses and indirect productivity losses.

The study found that medical costs for obese adults are $147 billion dollars more per year than for those of normal weight.  For children, the added costs due to obesity are $14.3 billion per year.

“The overall economic impact of obesity in the US appears to be substantial,” wrote researchers Ross Hammond and Ruth Levine of the Brookings economic studies program.

“Medical costs appear to have increased dramatically over the last decade and may continue to grow with future increases in rates of overweight and obesity in US adults and children, perhaps substantially,” they wrote in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.

In addition to the direct costs of obesity, the indirect costs include absenteeism, lost productivity, disability and premature death.

The researchers also found that transportation costs may be higher due to the added weight of obese travelers.

“Total productivity costs are likely substantial, perhaps as high as 66 billion dollars annually for the US,” the researchers wrote.

Although previous research has examined the costs of obesity, it did not focus specifically on the potential external effects, such as transportation and environmental effects.

“Increases in body weight among Americans mean that more fuel and, potentially, larger vehicles are needed to transport the same number of commuters and travelers each year,” the researchers wrote.

“This produces a direct cost (in the form of greater spending on fuel), as well as potential indirect costs in the form of greater greenhouse gas emissions.”

Obesity may also have “human capital” costs, such as a diminished ability to attain higher levels of education.  However, these effects are hard to calculate.

“Women who had been obese in the baseline survey had significantly fewer years of school completed (0.3 year on average),” the researchers said.

“Likewise, they were less likely to be married, had lower household incomes, and higher rates of poverty. For men, the only statistically significant correlation was for marital status.”

The report found that obesity has grown into a significant global epidemic, with some half a billion people worldwide classified as overweight in 2002.

In the United States, more than two-thirds of adults are now overweight.  This includes one-third of the U.S. adult population that are now considered obese.

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