Monday, June 1, 2009

The Cost of Obesity

The rates of obesity in the United States are staggering. The depth and breadth of the problem is astounding and the costs are many. The National Center for Health statistics has been tracking America’s obesity problem for over four decades.

  • Between 1962 and the year 2000, the number of obese Americans grew from 13% to an alarming 31% of the population.
  • 63% of Americans are overweight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) in excess of 25.0.
  • 31% are obese with a BMI in excess of 30.0.
  • Childhood obesity in the United States has more than tripled in the past two decades.
  • According to the U.S. Surgeon General report obesity is responsible for 300,000 deaths every year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes a fascinating series of charts noting the obesity trends from 1985-2007. Go to to view the charts.

Research has demonstrated the following increased health risks associated with being overweight or obese.

· Coronary heart disease

· Type 2 diabetes

· Cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon)

· Hypertension (high blood pressure)

· Dyslipidemia (for example, high total cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides)

· Stroke

· Liver and Gallbladder disease

· Sleep apnea and respiratory problems

· Osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)

· Gynecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility)

As mentioned above, children are affected just as adults. The CDC reports that “obese children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80% of children who were overweight at aged 10–15 years were obese adults at age 25 years. Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children. The latter study also found that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood is likely to be more severe.

The health consequences for overweight and obese children make them more

“more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes) than are other children and adolescents.” Additional consequences include impaired learning in school and poor self-esteem to name a few.

The financial costs for obesity/overweight related health care include $79 billion dollars spent annually, in the United States alone. Half of that money is taxpayer funded as the costs are paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. These numbers were from 1998 and one can assume that they have increased as the rates of obesity continue to rise. These are only the direct health care related costs. Additional economic costs include decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, bed days and even premature death!

This is a real problem and truly, it concerns me more than the swine flu. It’s up to us to change the way we feed our children. We must realize that we are role models as children learn their eating habits from their parents. Let’s start reversing these trends!


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