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The Financial Cost of Obesity


Obesity has become a worldwide health problem, with millions of individuals across the globe being affected by it. While the development of obesity has been linked to some extent to genetics, it primarily depends on the diet we consume. In the United States alone, over one-third of the adults are obese. This presents a significant burden on the economic resources of the country, and the same hold for the rest of the world.

Here we shall take a look at the financial cost that obesity places on the economy.

The costs of obesity can be classified into a number of different aspects.

1. Direct medical costs

These costs are the ones that occur due to the multitude of health problems that accompany obesity. This includes, and is not limited to, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and stroke. The costs are incurred not just from treatment of these conditions, but also from the various investigations that are needed to reach a diagnosis. Studies have shown that a one unit increase in BMI increases the overall cost of care by nearly 2%1. In fact, the overall increase in cost incurred is almost 20% when compared to healthy individuals2.  The estimated costs from cohort studies reveal in excess cost of $53 million over 25 years, which is no doubt significant. However, it is believed that some of this cost may be offset by the fact that the various illnesses can result in an early mortality.

2. Additional transportation costs

The increase in body weight would increase the fuel expenses, as the added weight would increase the fuel consumption. In addition, overweight people may require larger vehicles for transportation, and many of these are gas guzzlers. But the added costs have not just affected cars and motor vehicles. Airlines also require a large amount of fuel, with the additional costs going up by millions of dollars in the last few years.
3. Productivity costs

Due to the various health problems that accompany obesity, individuals may take more sick days from work. Research has confirmed this, with links established between high rates of absenteeism from work and obesity. The contrary also has a negative effect – being present at work and being obese can result in reduced productivity as well. Finally, costs such as disability allowances and payments are also high, adding to the costs.


The above is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the economic burden it places. Costs are increased due to a number of reasons. Clearly, it is time to tackle this problem head on so that valuable resources can be redirected to other causes.


Relationship between modifiable health risks and short-term health care charges. Pronk NP, Goodman MJ, O’Connor PJ, Martinson BC JAMA. 1999 Dec 15; 282(23):2235-9.
Body mass index and future healthcare costs: a retrospective cohort study. Thompson D, Brown JB, Nichols GA, Elmer PJ, Oster G Obes Res. 2001 Mar; 9(3):210-8.


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