The Cost of American Obesity

No matter how you slice it, America is facing an obesity epidemic. And it’s going to cost us.

During the past 10 years, rates of obesity (defined by a body mass index of 30 or higher) have increased dramatically around the country.

In 2009, there were nine states where more than 30% of the population was obese, whereas in 1999, there were none. In 2009, only Colorado and Washington, D.C. had obesity rates below 20% of population, when only 10 years earlier, 32 states had that distinction.

Obviously, obesity is bad for you. The condition carries a number of direct and indirect health risks like heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and respiratory diseases and certain cancers have been linked to the condition as well.

It’s difficult to quantify the total costs of the condition, too, as one must take into account factors like decreased productivity and absenteeism (as well as future productivity lost to premature death), in addition to the direct costs of treating obesity-related illness.

But in August, the Centers for Disease Control released a report on obesity that quantified the problem. It estimated annual medical costs related to obesity at $147 billion for the more than 72 million obese Americans out there. And from there, the CDC concludes that obese persons incur medical costs $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.

Using that number as a basis, we have determined the cost of obesity per state by calculating the number of obese persons in each state (obesity rate x total population) in 2009 and multiplying that number by $1,429.

Some cost estimates have attempted to trace who pays for these costs, such as the CDC’s combined efforts with researchers to quantify how much is paid by public health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, but these leave out costs distributed among the many public and private health care options present in each state. After all, even if the state itself is not paying those health costs, they represent cash that could otherwise be spent (and taxed) in the local economy.

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