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Obesity Shortens Lifespan And Costs Society Billions

Armen Hareyan's picture

What many Americans eat and how little they exercise could wind up costing them - and American taxpayers - some serious money. Moreover, the overweight and obese may lose months from their lifespans.

Health care analysts predict an epidemic of weight-related diseases, as more baby boomers become senior citizens. A new study warns that the cost of treating such diseases through publicly funded programs such as Medicare and Medicaid could increase significantly.

"The changes in expenditures will be substantial," said lead study author Zhou Yang, Ph.D. "Based on my current research, an elderly person who is overweight at 65 may spend $16,000 more and the obese person may spend $26,000 more than those who are a normal weight at age 65."

Given that 35 percent of the adults in the United States are overweight and another 30 percent are obese, the total extra cost of treating them could jump to hundreds of billions of dollars as they age, according to the study in the online issue of the journal Health Services Research.

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The study shows a direct relationship between body weight and cardiovascular disease, respiratory system disease, most forms of cancer and diabetes. Treatment costs were 6 percent higher in overweight men and 12.5 percent higher in obese men, while overweight women spent 10.7 percent more and obese women spent 16.8 percent more than normal-weight peers.

Life expectancy for a man of normal weight is 76.1 years; for an overweight man it's 75.9 and for an obese man, it's 74.2. For a woman of normal weight, life expectancy is 74 years; for an overweight woman it's 72.7 and for an obese woman it's 71.6.

To minimize additional financial burdens, prevention is critical, said Yang, an assistant professor at the College of Public Health and Health Professions, University of Florida.

"We must do a better job of informing the general public about the health risks associated with obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle."

According to Nancy Wellman, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and director of the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging at Florida International University, the key to lowering these health risks is universal access to quality nutrition information.

"Everyone should be able to check with a registered dietitian about diet and health lifestyle choices in order to prevent the worsening epidemic of obesity," Wellman said. "We give a lot of lip service to prevention, but are not willing to pay much [even] when such a payoff can be huge."