The effect of Obesity on the Economy

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Excessive weight affects virtually every organ system in the body, increasing the risk of diabetes, myocardial infarction, troke, cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, and other chronic diseases.

Obese people are at a significantly increased risk for more than 30 major diseases, that include Heart Disease, Diabetes and Hypertension. Over the past 15 years, type 2 diabetes rates have doubled in eight states. In 1995, 28 states had type 2 diabetes rates below 5 percent, by 2010, nine states had type 2 diabetes rates above 10 percent and only two states had rates below 6 percent. In 1995, just four states had hypertension rates above 25 percent. Fifteen years later, 45 states had rates above 25 percent, and rates exceeded 30 in nine states.

Obesity-related health care costs total around $147 billion annually, roughly 10 percent of health care spending. And it’s hurting our productivity. Obesity-related job absenteeism costs about $4.3 annually, lower productivity accounts for approximately $506 per obese worker per year, and as a person’s BMI increases, so do his or her sick days, medical claims, and health care costs.

Even as obesity adversely affects the economy, an economic downturn may increase rates of obesity. Economic adversity induces consumers to replace nutritious but expensive produce with less costly, high-calorie, commodity-based products. “… Fast food tends to be skewed toward lower-income consumers. . . . In times of economic weakness and/or rising costs, consumers tend to trade down to lower price points rather than prepare food at home…” This pattern may ex- plain why share prices of some fast food companies outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index in the stock market collapse of late 2008. Food insecurity, heightened in times of economic uncertainty, increases obesity risk through complex dietary and psychosocial mechanisms. In addition, economic hardship aggravates obesity and related conditions by reducing membership in health and sports clubs and youth athletic leagues and (through reduced health insurance cov- erage) lower use of preventive medical services.

Recently , First Lady Michelle Obama stated in a speech that Obesity is one of the most challenging health crises the country has ever faced:

  • Two-thirds of adults and nearly one-third of children and teens are currently obese or overweight, putting them at increased risk for more than 20 major diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • Obesity-related medical costs and a less productive workforce are hampering America’s ability to compete in the global economy.
  • Obesity-related medical costs total $147 billion a year, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all annual medical spending. Obese people spend 42 percent more on health care costs than healthy-weight individuals.
  • Obesity-related job absenteeism costs the country around $4.3 billion annually; as a person’s body mass index increases, so do the number of sick days, medical claims, and health care costs.

We have written about the consequences of Obesity repeatedly, but until now not about the economics of this disease, which is almost entirely preventable with diet & exercise.


  1. David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD & Harold A. Pollack, PhD, Obesity and the Economy, JAMA, February 4, 2009
  2. Laura Segal, Obesity: Weighing Down Our Economy
  3. Laura Segal,The Tipping Point in America’s Obesity Epidemic

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