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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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Before we start inevitably talking about fat taxes - or the infamous plan to revoke healthcare for fat people - let me point out a problem with that. I'm a fat American. I also have a lifelong endocrine disorder, and two permanently injured legs from a past accident. I don't eat Big Macs, or soda, or any of the things people so flippantly tell me to stop "guzzling" - in fact, it's been a struggle to lose weight even with a doctor's supervision. If we really want to address the systemic causes of obesity, we need to look at the harder questions: why is high fructose corn syrup cheap, subsidized, and in everything? Why are our cities designed to be dangerous for walkers and bikers? Why is it only the rich who are able to gain access to benefits like physical therapy and personal training? Believe me, I would love love LOVE to "just go outside and run down the block". I would love to be thin, but the obstacles I have to hurdle are quite different from the ones thin people like to tell me about.

There is so much misinformation flying around about obesity.

If you actually look at the reserach--including the most recent Congressional Budget Office report on obesitiy, you will find that obesity is not driving health care inflation. I have written about this here: http://www.healthbeatblog.com/2010/09/no-obesity-is-not-driving-health-c...

Per capita health care spending on Americans of all sizes has been spiraling. Thin Americans actually consume more health care (and add more to the nation's health care bill) in a given year than overweight Americans.

Granted truly obese (not just "overweight) Americans consume even more healthcare in a given year--but over a lifetime, they cost us less because they die much sooner.

They don't live long enough to fall victim to the really expensive chronic diseaes--such as Alzheimers. (Nearly half of Americans who live to 85 will develop Alzheimers, as will many you live past 65)

Finally, obesity is a disease and we have no cure for it except bariatric surgery--which is a drastic and very expensive solution.

Any physician or medical reseracher working on obesity will tell you that simply eating less, eating healtheir and exercising will not help obese patients-- even if they are totally compliant and dieting and exercising under a doctor's supervision. No matter how hard these patients try, doctors point out that even if they lose weight, they put the pounds back on. This is a complicated disease, and body chemistry, brain neurons, genetics, etc. won't let them keep the weight off. You can imagine how discouraging this must me.

Since we can't help them, it is terribly unfair to blame obese people for being "fat."

Medical researchers are working to crack the mystery of this very complicated disease. In the meantime, we should all be tolerant. Being obese is like suffering from MS.

The prohibition of discrimination against obese citizens exists only in Michigan--one state more than the number which prohibit discrimination against non-obese people. My point: that every time an obese person is crowding me in the elevator or spilling over into my seat in an airplane, I certainly feel like I, not they, are getting the short end of the stick. I'm not proposing a fat tax, but a penalty against obesity does not seem out of line.

The prohibition of discrimination against obese citizens exists only in Michigan--one state more than the number which prohibit discrimination against non-obese people. My point: that every time an obese person is crowding me in the elevator or spilling over into my seat in an airplane, I certainly feel like I, not they, are getting the short end of the stick. I'm not proposing a fat tax, but a penalty against obesity does not seem out of line.

Our economy could handle if the annual cost of obesity would be $4,879 a year if you're a woman and $2,646 for a man. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Healthcare cost of obesity is much worse and this country has to engage into massive and intensive war against obesity before it gets more out of control. I am amazed how commentators in media frequently point out the healthcare costs in this country and claim that other countries have much better outcomes with much less cost. Tendency is to blame the U.S. health delivery system or any part of it. In this country healthcare system has to deal with a lot more obesity related disorders than any other healthcare system. It is about time to focus on the subjects of the U.S. healthcare system and Ms Babin rightfully points out to a real big problem in this country and it is not getting any better real soon

From what I see there is alot of overeating going on. I have always wanted to know what the impact to the economy would be if we only ate as much as we needed.

How many Big Macs, super sized fries and large Cokes are stuck to the hips of this country?

Also, what is the real long term cost of cheaper food if today's bottle of soda is tomorrow diabetes?

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