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Beyond Trim: Obesity the other national debt issue

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 2:39 p.m. CDT

Our national debt has been in the news a lot lately. But, it’s not the only debt Americans face. Expanding waistlines is a weighty problem that is proving costly to many of us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there was a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States from 1990 through 2010. It is now estimated that 35 percent or more of the U.S. adult population is obese. It is hard to turn on the television these days without seeing a story about obesity in America, yet many of us may not realize the economic impact.  

The medical costs alone are enormous and include more than just services directly related to obesity. Obesity increases the risk of many health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancers, high cholesterol, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and arthritis, just to name a few.

CDC research based on 2008 data showed that people who were obese incurred medical costs that were $1,429 higher than the costs for people of normal body weight. In 2008, these costs totaled about $147 billion. Medical costs are born by the individual in higher out-of-pocket medical expenses, by employers in medical claims, and by the taxpayer in medical services to the uninsured.

There are other employment-related costs. Obesity has been linked with reduced worker productivity and chronic absence from work. These costs affect both the employer and the worker. 

Other costs associated with our increasing weight are related to transportation. A recent Reuters news service story reported that it costs $5 billion annually for additional jet fuel needed to fly heavier Americans, compared to fuel needed at 1960 weights. Also, it costs $4 billion annually for additional gasoline for cars that carry heavier passengers.

The Department of Health and Human Service Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently published a report showing that many patients don’t receive information from their doctors and other medical professionals about the risks of obesity or how to control or lose weight even if the patient is already overweight or obese. 

Obesity is defined medically as a BMI or Body Mass Index of 30 or more. Have a conversation with your doctor and ask for help to calculate your BMI. Talk to them about ways to manage your weight. Your wallet may thank you.  

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