The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services’ Department of Health Policy today released a report that, for the first time, calculated the startlingly high individual costs of obesity to Americans. The report, “A Heavy Burden: The Individual Costs of Being Overweight and Obese in the United States,” authored by Avi Dor, Professor and Director of Health Economics Program at The George Washington University, and colleagues used a series of measures including indirect costs, lost productivity, and direct costs, such as obesity-related medical expenditures, to estimate the price tag of obesity at the individual level.
The authors concluded that the individual cost of being obese is $4,879 and $2,646 for women and men respectively, and adding the value of lost life to these annual costs produces even more dramatic results: $8,365 and $6,518 annually for women and men, respectively. The analysis demonstrates costs are nine times higher for women and six times higher for men who are obese, which is defined as an individual with a Body Mass Index (BMI) more than 30, than for an overweight person, which is defined as someone with a BMI between 25-29. The findings also reveal a significant difference between the impact of obesity on men and women when it comes to job-related costs, including lost wages, absenteeism and disability.
The report suggests that these estimates may understate total costs. Dr. Dor noted that, “existing literature provides information on health- and work-related costs, but with the exception of fuel costs, no published academic research offers insight into consumer-related costs, such as clothing, air travel, automobile size or furniture. Anecdotal evidence suggests these costs could be significant.”
The key findings of the report shed new light on recent statistics on the annual health care costs associated with the obesity epidemic. Health care costs are now estimated at $147 billion annually, representing nearly 10 percent of all U.S. medical expenses. By 2030, the health care costs attributable to the overweight and obese could account for up to 16 to 18 percent of total U.S. health care costs.
“The data demonstrate that an individual affected by obesity faces not only high medical-related costs, but also higher non-medical costs, including lost wages due to disability and premature mortality,” said Joe Nadglowski, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Obesity Action Coalition. “Given the increasing obesity rates, this report underscores the critical need for a new and more aggressive approach to obesity that considers both prevention and treatment for those 93 million Americans who are already obese.”
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