The rising rate of obesity in America is causing widespread and unexpected changes in the way businesses, insurance companies, and individuals are spending money. The increase in medical spending alone due to obesity is now double prior estimates and has exceeded the costs associated with smoking, according to a new study from economists at Duke University. The study shows that while smoking increased medical costs by about 20% a year, obesity has increased cost by about the same amount, while morbid obesity has increased cost by about 50%.
The number of obese Americans has tripled since 1960, and now includes about 34% of the population, while morbidly obese Americans now compromise 6% of the American population.
The healthcare costs associated with obesity affect more than the obese, and have a wider impact on employers, insurance companies, and Medicaid. It’s estimated that very obese people lose one month of productivity per work year, equal to about $3,792 in lost productivity.
Obesity costs also impacts the non-obese by forcing them to pay for the increase in health insurance premiums and taxes to support Medicaid. One study showed that a single obese woman raises these third-party expenses by $3,220 per year, while an obese man increases them by $967 per year. Largely because of the obesity impact, the 2010 healthcare reform law gives employers the ability to charge obese workers more for health insurance premiums if the worker declines to participate in wellness programs offered by the employer.