New Lifetime Estimate of Obesity Costs: $92,235 Per Person
Policy + Politics

New Lifetime Estimate of Obesity Costs: $92,235 Per Person

Reuters/Toby Melville

The alarming epidemic of obesity among Americans and its implications for rising public health costs have become a topic of endless fascination and speculation among public policy experts, academics and politicians.

Now, a complex new study says that the lifetime societal and public health cost of obesity is on average $92,235 per person when compared with the costs associated with a person of normal weight.

Related: Budget Busting U.S. Obesity Costs Climb Past $300 Billion a Year  

More than a third of all adult Americans – some 78.6 million people -- and 17 percent of young people are obese, according to research. Without major government and private intervention and a dramatic change in unhealthy eating habits, one study says the adult obesity rate could reach 50 percent by 2030.That means more obesity-related health problems such as Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension, arthritis and even cancer.

These illnesses require costly treatments that are stoking the annual cost of health care and contributing to absenteeism from work and school and lost productivity in the economy.

In short, the current levels of obesity in the U.S. constitute large-scale loss damage to the quality of life, deterioration in population health, and an enormous drain on financial resources.The cost to society in terms of troubled lives, soaring health care costs and diminished economic growth and productivity is staggering.

Earlier this week, the Center for Social Dynamics and Policy, in partnership with the World Food Center of the University of California-Davis, presented new research at the Brookings Institution that attempts to quantify a wide range of the economic costs of obesity using a complicated model built for the project. 

Related: How the Obesity Epidemic Drains Medicare and Medicaid

That $92,235 figure was reached by adding up all direct medical costs and lost-productivity costs from absenteeism at work, as well as short-term disability payments and foregone tax revenue.

Using that estimate, if all 12.7 million U.S. youth with obesity became obese adults, the societal costs over their lifetimes may exceed a total of $1.1 trillion.

“The obesity epidemic is an extremely pressing issue for the United States, and by the way for many other countries around the world,” said Ross A. Hammond, director of the Center on Social Dynamics and Policy at Brookings. “And it’s also a problem that is challenging from a policy perspective because the causes of obesity are quite complex.”

“There is a growing sense that to do a better job of addressing obesity, we’re going to need coordination across many different policy arenas and potentially at many different levels of scale,” he added.  “And that’s hard to achieve, but may be the most important thing to try to do moving forward to address obesity.”

Related: Americans Lose More Ground in Fighting Obesity

As startling as these estimates are, others say the true cost of obesity may be even greater.

An analysis  prepared last June for The Fiscal Times by Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight & Wellness at George Washington University, pegged the total cost of obesity – including direct medical and non-medical services, decreased worker productivity, disability and premature death – at $305.1 billion annually.

Those direct medical costs -- including counseling, outpatient and hospital visits, bariatric surgical procedures, nursing home care, rehabilitation and hospice – account for $190 billion of the annual costs, according to Kahan.

The non-medical costs, including health education and behavioral change, add $50 billion to the annual tab. Finally, absenteeism and sub-par productivity in the workplace costs an additional $65.1 billion a year.

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