An extremely sobering article about obesity is out today in Reuters. It takes a look at the staggering inter-connected long term implications of our growing obesity epidemic, from wider seats on buses and sports stadiums, to increased fuel consumption, and everyone (including the healthy) seeing their health insurance premiums continue to rise. Here are some key excerpts from the article:
The nation’s rising rate of obesity has been well-chronicled. But businesses, governments and individuals are only now coming to grips with the costs of those extra pounds, many of which are even greater than believed only a few years ago: The additional medical spending due to obesity is double previous estimates and exceeds even those of smoking, a new study shows.
Many of those costs have dollar signs in front of them, such as the higher health insurance premiums everyone pays to cover those extra medical costs. Other changes, often cost-neutral, are coming to the built environment in the form of wider seats in public places from sports stadiums to bus stops.
The good news is that this looming catastrophe has prompted our public leaders to begin to do something about it, similar to when smoking became a big public health issue decades ago:
“As committee chairmen, Cabinet secretaries, the head of Medicare and health officials see these really high costs, they are more interested in knowing, ‘what policy knob can I turn to stop this hemorrhage?’” said Michael O’Grady of the National Opinion Research Center, co-author of a new report for the Campaign to End Obesity, which brings together representatives from business, academia and the public health community to work with policymakers on the issue.
The U.S. health care reform law of 2010 allows employers to charge obese workers 30 percent to 50 percent more for health insurance if they decline to participate in a qualified wellness program. The law also includes carrots and celery sticks, so to speak, to persuade Medicare and Medicaid enrollees to see a primary care physician about losing weight, and funds community demonstration programs for weight loss.
Although obesity advocacy groups are starting to cry foul here, studies clearly show that the obese are far less productive, are absent from the workplace far more often, and have more medical issues that often continually cost significant amounts of money to treat in the form of doctor visits and prescription drugs.
According to the article:
Because obesity raises the risk of a host of medical conditions, from heart disease to chronic pain, the obese are absent from work more often than people of healthy weight. The most obese men take 5.9 more sick days a year; the most obese women, 9.4 days more. Obesity-related absenteeism costs employers as much as $6.4 billion a year, health economists led by Eric Finkelstein of Duke University calculated.
Even when poor health doesn’t keep obese workers home, it can cut into productivity, as they grapple with pain or shortness of breath or other obstacles to working all-out. Such obesity-related “presenteeism,” said Finkelstein, is also expensive. The very obese lose one month of productive work per year, costing employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female. Total annual cost of presenteeism due to obesity: $30 billion
All of this spending on health is also not necessarily a boon for the economy, according to the article:
The bad news is that despite all of the awareness about these issues, the problem seems to be getting worse. The good news is that our leaders in both the public and private sector are starting to do some significant things about it. Will it be enough to reverse this trend, however?