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The Sport Digest - ISSN: 1558-6448

Obese Optimism

A recent study done by The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) estimated annual medical spending due to overweight and obesity (BMI >25) to be as much as $92.6 billion in 2002. Direct health care costs such as preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity, have totaled over $61 billion. Indirect costs are the value of wages lost by people unable to work because of illness or disability, as well as the value of future earnings lost by premature death. These indirect costs have tallied up to $56 billion dollars. Since 1991, obesity among adults has increased by nearly 60 percent nationally (Flegal, Kuczmarski, & Johnson, 1998), and Americans spend approximately $33 billion annually on weight-loss products and services (Colditz, 1992).

How can such an empty glass seem half full? What is the bright side to these chilling state expenditure statistics? The optimistic answer may be found in the morbid, and remorseless facts surrounding the life expectancy of nearly one quarter of obese U.S. adults (Flegal, et al.,1998). Approximately 280,000 adult deaths in the United States each year are attributable to obesity (Allison, et al.,1999). Obese individuals have a 50-100 percent increased risk of death from all causes, compared with normal-weight individuals. (National Heart Lung and Blood Institute,1998). Medicaid and Medicare both spend large sums of money on treating diseases caused, or made worse by obesity. Based on these statistics, Americans with poor health habits will end up spending less of the taxpayers capital.

To be brutally honest, the obese smoker who passes away at 68 will actually save the taxpayer money. Physically fit retirees who live to be 90 will have collected Social Security and Medicare benefits for at least 25 years (Harrop, 2004). A person diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes before the age of 40 can expect to die eight years earlier than healthy contemporaries (NIDDK). We can only estimate the amount of money those eight years of collecting retiree benefits would cost taxpayers.

Adopting such an optimistically distorted angle on our overweight nation may be the only way to digest the facts. Weather a person dies at 95 or 55, the last few years of their lives have a tendency to be quite expensive. Medications, visits to the physician, and hospital/nursing home care are but of few of the direct health care costs that American taxpayers are held accountable for. In the long run, healthy people will expend more Social Security, and Medicare benefits than the unhealthy. From a purely economic standpoint, more than half of American adults who are overweight are actually saving our nation money (Flegal et al., 1998).


Allison, D.B., Fontaine, D.R., et al.(1999).Annual deaths attributable to obesity in the United States. JAMA 282(16), 1530-1538.

Colditz, C.A.(1992). Economic costs of obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition(55), 503-507.

Flegal, K.M., Carrol, M.D., Kuczmarski, R.J. & Johnson C.L. (1998). Overweight and obesity in the United States: prevalence and trends. International Journal of Obesity (22), 39-47.

Harrop, F.(2004). Fit or fat: Who pays for America’s eating woes? The Providence Journal, 5.

Kuczmarski, R.J. Carrol, M.D., Flegal K.M., & Troiano, R.P. (1997). Varying body mass index cutoff points to describe overweight prevalence among U.S. adults. Obese Resources (5), 542-548.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/nutrit/pubs/statobes.htm

America is fat and it’s costing us billions. The National Institutes of Health say that two-thirds of US adults are officially overweight and about half are full-blown obesity. The total medical tab for illnesses related to obesity is $17 billion a year and climbing. (“Overcoming Obesity in America.” TIME SPECIAL ISSUE, June7, 2004. http://www.time.com.)