Obesity Costs


There’s no question that obesity in America has not only a health cost, but also a financial cost.  How big is it, and can the money factor in fact help reverse the obesity trends?


This week the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University gathered government, academic and food industry experts to discuss the latest thinking and policies regarding food and the problem of obesity.


From cheap fattening foods , to the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids, there are financial factors feeding obesity.  But if we manipulate the money, experts say we can reverse the fattening trends.


Now, most of us know that being fat is not good for us.  The list of diseases caused by obesity, ranging from heart disease to diabetes is long.  Still, for several reasons, we choose not to do anything about it, and we remain fat.


Dr. Eric Finkelstein, a researcher at RTI International, says, “Being thin is not enough motivation for 2/3 of us.  Most of us could weigh less if we tried but it’s too difficult in the current environment.”


Perhaps one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest is this: money.  For example, fattening food is cheap; much cheaper than healthy fruits and vegetables.


"If buy that argument, we need to change the cost and benefits of behaviors related to food consumption and physical activity to either make it more costly to engage in those behaviors that are obesity promoting, or up the benefits of weight loss, beyond the weight loss itself," says Dr. Finkelstein.


The solutions are already being discussed and even implemented.  For example, taxing the food that’s really bad for us and contributing to obesity. 


Some states have done it to soft drinks. Dr. Kelly Brownell, the Director of the Rudd Center, says, “Taking categories of foods, which have categorically been shown to be related to the prevalence of obesity the top of that would be soft drinks, and following that would be fast foods.”


The fact is, nine percent of all medical spending is related to obesity.  The costs now rivals that of smoking…somewhere to the tune of 90 billion dollars annually.


So the thinking now is, spend now to save later: there is now bill in congress that would promote wellness programs at the workplace, like subsidizing gym memberships.


Alisa Morris, an aid to Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, says, “The bill would give employers a fifty percent tax credit to implement worksite comprehensive wellness programs for their employees.  For every dollar invested there’s about three dollars yielded.”


Factor in lost work days due to obesity related illnesses, and private insurance costs, each severely obese worker--nine percent of our workforce--costs the employer more than three thousand dollars annually…but it would cost less to prevent the obesity or reverse it.


 “I think it makes more fiscal sense to pay for it on the front end,” says Ms. Morris.


RTI actually asked a group of people how much would it be worth it to them to be paid to lose ten pounds and keep it off for a year.  The amount: 175 dollars. 


So, people can easily be swayed by money, and it might be worth it for employers to offer that as an incentive to lose weight, because it may very well save the employer money in the end.


FBC infodot keywords:  tops chop