Obesity – Is it Contributing to the Rising Costs of Healthcare?

Most of us have heard about the obesity epidemic in the United States but haven’t heard the alarming statistics. The fact is that 31 percent of our population is overweight as opposed to 15 percent only twenty years ago. This problem contributes to catastrophic diseases like heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes, and even cancer. Our children are now so overweight that 27 percent are rejected for the military and one general claims we are getting too fat to defend ourselves. What effect does this have on our cost of healthcare? This trend has devastating effects on our health, creating skyrocketing healthcare costs and draining our productivity.

Let’s look at the health effects. For example, according to The National Cancer Institute, 25 to 30 percent of all major cancers can be linked to obesity. The American Heart Association states, “When people eat too many calories, or too much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, their blood cholesterol levels often rise. That raises their risk of heart disease.” The list of other possible health consequence of obesity also includes diabetes, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, acid reflux, gout, and others. Some researchers believe obesity may also be linked to neurological disorders, asthma, and risky pregnancies.

In addition, obese individuals are resorting to more drastic measures with elective surgeries like stomach bands or gastric bypass, which carry their own risks of infection, hemorrhage, and hernias. Between 1993 and 2003 the number of these surgeries performed rose 600 percent with an average cost of $30,000 each.

No wonder medical insurance costs are 3 times higher than they were in 1990 when 27 percent of this increase is due to obesity. Obese patients require more medications, a 77 percent higher expense than other patients, and have 36 percent higher treatment costs as well. The total healthcare cost of obesity has exploded just in the last 10 years.

Let’s look at the effects on small business. The obesity epidemic has not only increased the cost of health insurance for our nation’s employers, it has also been a drain on our productivity. Obese workers are estimated to cost companies more because these workers take longer to complete some tasks and they are unable to lift common workplace objects like computer monitors. In addition, on average they miss more days of work and need larger payments due to workmen’s compensation claims.

Right now the CDC says 300,000 annual deaths are attributed to obesity but the number could be much higher. Solving our national epidemic of obesity will not be easy but we can no longer afford to ignore the fact that it has a tremendous cost to all of us. The devastating effect on our health, resulting in rising costs of healthcare and damage to our national productivity are both compelling reasons for us to change our lifestyle before it’s too late. If we don’t, the affects on our families and economy will be devastating and will jeopardize our fundamental way of life.

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