Obesity Rates May Finally Be Leveling Off
Life + Money

Obesity Rates May Finally Be Leveling Off

REUTERS/Mike Blake

What Happened. Adult obesity rates in America may be leveling off: Obesity rates increased in just six states in the past year. Those states were Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming, according to a new report from StateofObesity.org, a project of the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nine years ago, every state but one reported an increase in obesity rates. 

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The main factors contributing to this trend are federal and state policies that promote healthy eating and exercise, experts say. “We are starting to see signs of progress,” said the new report. “Over the past 30 years, adult obesity rates have sharply risen, doubling since 1980. Today, that rate of increase is beginning to slow.” Childhood obesity rates have also stabilized in the past decade, including among young children from low-income families.

The bad news is that adult obesity rates throughout the nation remain high in many states. Mississippi and West Virginia have the highest rate at 35.1 percent, followed by Arkansas at 34.6 percent, the report noted.

Why It Matters. One in three Americans is obese, and with obesity contributing to many illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and arthritis, the there’s an increasing burden on our health care system.

The total annual cost of obesity in this country is more than $300 billion, according to a June 2014 analysis by the National Center for Weight and Wellness at George Washington University. Job absenteeism alone due to obesity-related issues costs $4.3 billion annually, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

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The new report warns that if obesity continues to rise at the current rate, the combined medical costs associated with treating preventable obesity-related diseases could increase by $48 billion to $66 billion a year – and the loss in economic productivity could be between $390 billion and $580 billion annually. 

“Reducing obesity and improving health can help lower costs through fewer trips to the doctor’s office, tests, prescription drugs, sick days, emergency room visits and admissions to the hospital, and lowered risk for a wide range of diseases,” the report noted. If obesity trends were lowered by reducing the average adult body mass index by just 5 percent, the country could save $29.8 billion in five years and $158 billion in 10 years.

What It Means for You. Obesity is costing individual Americans a fortune. As obesity-related costs rise, health insurance companies transfer the increase onto other insured Americans. The impact of obesity on productivity affects American businesses and ultimately national growth – and an increase in disability payments and disability insurance premiums is also a burden on Social Security’s bottom line.

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