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Obesity costs more than health dollars

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Obesity costs more than just health dollars. Obesity destroys quality of life. Obesity related illnesses include heart disease, and diabetes, and cancer. Chronic pain conditions become worse. Increased food consumption places a burden on a fragile ecosystem.

Obesity places children at risk for psychological and physical ailments in adulthood. Complications of obesity related diseases increase burden on healthcare workers, placing demands on time for management of obesity related diseases. Injuries happen easily when caring for an intensively ill obese patient.

Medical costs related to obesity were estimated at $78.5 million in 1998 according to the journal Health Affairs. Most of the spending came from Medicare and Medicaid.

According to the study authors, “We found that the increased prevalence of obesity is responsible for almost $40 billion of increased medical spending through 2006, including $7 billion in Medicare prescription drug costs. We estimate that the medical costs of obesity could have risen to $147 billion per year by 2008”.

Obesity demands the same sort of attention as world hunger. It should be hard to imagine the inequity of both, yet they each create the same problems. Obesity and malnourishment divert health resources and deplete our workforce.

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Food supply also influences obesity, but is important to economic growth. Public policies that promote and encourage increased food consumption have contributed to economic success for agricultural sectors, but have paradoxically failed in helping consumers find a healthy balance that reduces the chances of obesity.

Increased food production has resulted in inexpensive calorie laden unhealthy foods, most of which contain corn oil and sweeteners. Food production policies contribute to obesity – high calorie food is a commodity encouraged and subsidized by the government.

According to the Handbook of Obesity, authored by George A. Bray and Claude Bouchard, “…overproduction and the consequently inexpensive foods, is now being increasingly questioned as one of the potential environmental factors favoring the occurrence of overweight and obesity”.

The report from the Health Affairs shows we may have tipped the balance somewhere. Health care spending to treat obesity might be a price we are paying for economic growth.

We have created a climate that favors overeating and contributes to obesity. Producing high calorie foods is encouraged. The same is not true when it comes to producing fruits and vegetables. Perhaps government policies focused on optimal nutrition versus inexpensive, calorie dense foods should be targeted as a means to combat the extreme cost of obesity, now estimated to be $147 billion annually.

Health Affairs
Food and Agricultural Organization



In case the health care reform provides the general public with peace of mind, the rising mental stress or illness caused by financial instability may bend the curve surprisingly, in combination with kicking out the 'keep eating habit' to forget the deep-seated instability and apprehension, I guess. 'Work or Break' health system with no brake or safety system might be one of the biggest hidden causes of mental stress, obesity or overweight threatening the overall economy, I cautiously suppose.