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Wellsource Blog

Big Money: The True Costs of Obesity

Written by Wellsource, Inc.

May 15, 2013

You don't have to look far to find proof that obesity is a big problem. In Chicago, a 340-pound man was recently forced off a commercial airline for being too large. Crew members informed the man of the "customer of size" policy and advised him to purchase a second ticket. 

At a Las Vegas restaurant that serves a hamburger stacked with four beef patties, bacon, cheese, and condiments, two overweight customers suffered heart attacks while attempting to eat the behemoth burger. And new research shows that if you're obese, you're 20 percent more likely to die in a car accident than a normal weight person.

About 68 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. It comes with a hefty price tag in terms of health and financial costs. It's worse than the heartburn and indigestion served up by a quadruple-beef-patty burger. And it's an issue you will want to address in your own wellness program if your participants have similar weight problems as the rest of America.

Research shows that obesity increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, and of course, higher medical costs. A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that overweight people spend $1,429 more per year on medical care than healthy weight people. But when an overweight person becomes obese, medical costs jump to an average of $2,741 to $3,338 more per year. And unfortunately it doesn't stop there. Morbidly obese people spend about $6,118 per year more than a healthy weight individual. Obesity-related costs represent an estimated 20.6 percent of healthcare costs, or an estimated $190 billion per year, and the costs keep getting larger.

"The current trend in obesity is expected to drive future healthcare expenses very high," says Wellsource founder Dr. Don Hall, DrPh, CHES. "Taking action now to curb weight gain by employees is a good investment in your company's future."

Here's an example of the impact an obese population can have on your bottom line. Let's say an employer has 1,500 employees. About 36 percent of those employees (540) are obese. In the United States, about 35.7 percent of all adults are obese. An obese person has a body mass index of 30 or higher. If obesity-related health problems were the only reason they had to see a doctor, medical costs for these 540 employees would top $1.8 million in a single year for the employer.

"But the costs are even greater than that for an employer," says Wellsource Corporate Wellness Consultant Shawn Meyers. "Research shows that obesity is linked to decreased productivity and an increase in absenteeism as well, which can represent an even greater financial loss."

If you're looking for a way to reduce healthcare costs and increase ROI, creating interventions to address weight-related problems may be a good place to start. And we're here to help–our tools and lifestyle intervention programs are widely used by our clients to help people manage their weight.

On an airplane, in a restaurant, or behind the wheel, it's clear that the obesity epidemic isn't going away anytime soon. But your efforts to promote wellness can make a difference in the health of your participants and your bottom line.

"We know obesity is a predictor of high medical claims," Hall says. "Investing healthcare dollars in the prevention and treatment of obesity can pay big dividends in decreased health problems and costs in future years."

Emergency Medical Journal.
Archives of Internal Medicine.
Journal of Health Economics.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"Good health is your greatest asset. You will never regret a decision to take better care of your health."

Don Hall, DrPH, CHES, Founder Wellsource