The dollars and cents of obesity

Obese man

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Much has been written about the costs of obesity. In the billions of dollars to society at large. Now, though, for the first time, researchers have pinpointed obesity's effect on an individual's pocketbook.

From North Carolina Public Radio, Janet Babin explains.


Janet Babin: The study got really specific about the cost of being obese: $4,879 a year if you're a woman, and $2,646 a year if you're a man.

George Washington University Professor Christine Ferguson co-authored the study. She says obese people have higher medical expenses, including hospitalization and doctor visits, and they also pay the price at work.

Christine Ferguson: Like lost wages that you don't earn because of your obesity, the cost of disability, sick leave, and the cost of productivity.

Some of those costs are shared by employers. But why the disparity between men and women?

Ferguson: A significant portion of that is due to the wages that women who are obese don't earn because of what I would say is a stigma against obese women.

While gender discrimination is illegal, only one state -- Michigan -- bars discrimination against large-size workers.

Joe Nadglowski is president of the non-profit Obesity Action Coalition.

Joe Nadglowski: In this country currently, if a company wants to pay their obese employees less money, there's nothing that prevents them from doing so. It is not illegal.

The upside of the study? Weight loss can pay off. In some cases, reducing your weight by just 5 to 7 percent can lead to better health, as well as a fatter wallet.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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