Big people are big business in the United States, where about one in three adults and one in six children and adolescents are considered obese.
It’s known that obesity takes a toll on physical health, often leading to chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension and joint problems. What many don’t recognize is the financial burden associated with obesity -- costs that go far beyond the obese individual.
In Georgia, the cost of obesity is expanding like the waistbands of adults and children statewide; nearly one in three of the state’s adults is obese, and childhood obesity rates are second only to Mississippi.
The health care costs linked to excess weight in Georgia’s adults are currently estimated at around $2.5 billion per year, according to a 2009 report from United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the Partnership for Prevention. But if current trends continue, the report projects these costs could reach $10.8 billion by 2018.
At the current rate, by 2018 as many as 41 percent of Georgia adults could be obese and spending over $1,000 each for obesity-related health care annually, according to the report.
“An obese adult spends about 40 percent more on health care than a normal weight adult does in a given year,” said Kenneth Thorpe, lead researcher for the report and a professor of health policy and management at Emory University. “It adds expenditures, results in lower workplace productivity and a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions.”
While obese individuals pay more for their own health care, they aren’t the only ones who pay the price for their extra weight -- businesses and taxpayers shoulder the burden as well. In Georgia, Medicare and Medicaid are estimated to pay 28 percent of the state’s obesity-attributable expenditures, according to a recent study published in the journal Obesity.
And the costs continue to add up, for everything from the price of heavy-duty chairs in offices to the extra gasoline needed for cars carrying heavier people.
Growing waists and shrinking wallets
Rising rates of obesity nationwide and in Georgia are due to far more than individual behavior. Our surroundings play a huge role in what we eat and how much we exercise.
Georgians consistently rank among the lowest in health promoting behaviors like physical activity, with less than half of Georgia adults and only one in four kids getting the recommended amount of physical activity – two and a half hours of moderate activity per week – in 2009.
Only 17 percent of Georgia’s youth consume the recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.