Obesity costs the US economy at least 215 billion dollars a year in direct and indirect impacts including medical expenses and lost productivity, a new study showed Tuesday.
The report by Brookings Institution researchers found that medical costs for obese adults amounts to 147 billion dollars more than for those with healthy weight, and the costs for children amount of 14.3 billion dollars annually.
“Medical costs appear to have increased dramatically over the last decade and may continue to grow with future increases in rates of overweight and obesity in US adults and children, perhaps substantially,” said the researchers writing in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy.
In addition to these direct expenditures, obesity’s costs come from lost productivity, absensteeism, disability and premature death. The study also found that transportation costs may be higher because of heavier weights for airline passengers, for example.
“Total productivity costs are likely substantial, perhaps as high as 66 billion dollars annually for the US,” said researchers Ross Hammond and Ruth Levine of the Brookings economic studies program.
Although the costs of obesity have been analyzed in the past, less attention has been paid to other factors such as transportation and environmental impacts.
“Increases in body weight among Americans mean that more fuel and, potentially, larger vehicles are needed to transport the same number of commuters and travelers each year,” the researchers said.
“This produces a direct cost (in the form of greater spending on fuel), as well as potential indirect costs in the form of greater greenhouse gas emissions.”
Obesity may also result in “human capital” costs such as levels of educational attainment, although these are more difficult to quantify.
The researchers said that based on some research, “Women who had been obese in the baseline survey had significantly fewer years of school completed (0.3 year on average). Likewise, they were less likely to be married, had lower household incomes, and higher rates of poverty. For men, the only statistically significant correlation was for marital status.”
The study notes that obesity has grown into a major global epidemic; in the United States more than two-thirds of adults are now overweight including one third who are obese. As of 2002, nearly 500 million people were overweight worldwide, the researchers said.