Recent news that processed meats can cause cancer contributes to the growing evidence that a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle can cause an agglomeration of problems, hitting you both physically and financially.

The World Health Organization declared processed meats, such as bacon and sausage, are carcinogenic and noted the consumption of a mere two pieces of bacon per day boosted an individual’s cancer risk by 18%.

If a cancer diagnosis isn’t scary enough, a separate new study conducted by researchers from the University of Wyoming found fighting cancer can hurt you financially, as the average U.S. adult diagnosed with cancer will miss five weeks of work within the first year, which could drop the total family income by 20%.

Barbara K. Valle, a clinical nurse specialist and peritoneal dialysis and pre-transplant coordinator at The Kidney & Hypertension Group in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., says sometimes illness cannot be prevented, but many times chronic illness can.

“Many of the ills that befall us in middle age and older have seeds in our habits and how we treat our body when we are younger,” Valle explains. “In youth, we can often eat poorly, sleep erratically, drink too much, even smoke, and still claim to be ‘healthy.’ As age advances, the body fights back in the form of chronic illness.”

“As a clinical nurse specialist caring for people with chronic diseases-kidney disease, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes, overwhelmingly the common denominator in many forms of these illnesses is obesity,” she adds.

Sluggish Health and Obesity at What Cost?

The Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University stated in its 2010 report, “A Heavy Burden: The Individual Costs of Being Overweight and Obese in the United States,” that annual costs of being obese are $4,879 for a woman and $2,646 for a man. The overall annual costs of being overweight are $524 and $432 for women and men, respectively. For both genders, the incremental costs of obesity are much higher than the incremental costs of being overweight.

Furthermore, adding the value of lost life to these annual costs produces even more dramatic results. Average annualized costs, including value of lost life, are $8,365 for obese women and $6,518 for obese men, the report concluded.

Dr. Scott Kahan, M.D., M.P.H., director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness for the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, says the 2010 report remains relevant in terms of cost analysis and doubts figures have changed since.

“Medical expenses, such as costs of treating the many health effects of obesity are by far the largest contributor to costs,” Kahan says. “This is partly because the medical expenses are so large, but probably also relevant is that they are easiest to measure, so it's possible and probable that the non-medical costs are larger than we can show and may approach the medical cost burden.”

 “Obesity precipitates or aggravates many chronic diseases, and in fact, losing weight can help in almost every case, and sometimes can ‘cure’ the problem, such as significant weight loss causing type II diabetes to go into remission,” Valle says.

Valle cites 90% of diabetes is Type 2, not hereditary and most often weight driven. “Therefore attention to weight control, diet, nutrition and exercise can save you countless time and money down the road when disease can, at best, be managed but perhaps not cured.”

The cost of investing in an exercise program or eating healthful food, maintaining a goal weight often beats the cost of expensive co-pays and medications at age 50 plus, she adds.

Expense Breakdown

In the Milken Institute School of Public Health study, factors involved in determining the cost of being obese or ill due to lifestyle choices include:

•Out of pocket and insurance costs to cover medical expenses
•Absenteeism from work
•Lost time/productivity at work
•Short term disability and disability pension insurance
•Premature mortality
•Worker’s compensation
•Personal costs such as wardrobe, gas, etc.

Report authors also broke down costs ranging from simply being overweight to being morbidly obese. For example, one resource found the health care costs for an overweight person are $346 higher per year than the health care costs for a normal-weight person. Furthermore, health care costs for a morbidly obese person are $2,845 higher per year than the health care costs for a normal-weight person. Comparatively, the incremental costs for morbidly obese persons are eight times the incremental costs of overweight individuals.

You Can Reverse Obesity and Save Money

Valle says sleep hygiene, or attending to proper sleep habits, may seem not glamorous, but training your body to expect quality sleep can aid weight loss.

She suggests avoiding light sources and naps during the day, or trying some non-medicinal approaches to better sleep. “Working with a sleep specialist for non-pharmaceutical therapies to improve sleep quality is worth every penny, and in fact maybe covered by insurance,” she contends. “But it is cheaper by far then the effect of chronic insomnia on your general health. Again, weight matters. There is nothing glamorous about sleeping with a sleep apnea mask on, however obesity is a great risk factor in many cases of sleep apnea.”

Visit your doctor for reasonable screenings to head problems off before they worsen. A perfect example, Valle says, is a patient named Tom, whose annual blood test last week picked up a fasting glucose of 115.

“Further testing reveals he did not have diabetes, but under stress with a recent cold, and his body reacted with a high glucose,” she recalls. “Tom may indeed have a tendency to develop diabetes as time goes on. He tells me his dad did, and admits to carrying 30 extra pounds, mostly around his middle. A quick check of his BMI showed he was 45 pounds over a desirable average weight for his height.”

Valle and her team are taking steps to turn this problem around and she reminds people who may not be as vigilant about health maintenance, that weight-induced diabetes takes a painful and expensive toll on all target organs, including the eyes, kidney, heart and vessels.

“Similarly, a woman who develops diabetes while pregnant, called gestational diabetes will likely have it resolve after delivery, youth being in her favor,” Valle says. “However, she now carries an 80% chance of developing diabetes later in life. The good news is through diet, exercise and proper monitoring she may never develop it, or if she does, control it well and have a more favorable outcome. At The Kidney & Hypertension Group our motto is, ‘The best way to predict future health is to create it’.”