Healthcare Costs Of The Obese

My wife was reading the most recent issue of Time Magazine (Aug. 10) the other day and she showed me a blurb in the issue that broke down the costs of health care broken down not by age or disease but by the patients level of obesity. I found it fascinating and equally maddening. Time sourced the following facts from a report that was recently published in the Journal Health Affairs.

The short article pointed out the following facts:
  • Obese people make up approximately a quarter of the US population
  • Obese people spend $1,400 more per year on medical care than normal weight people
  • Medicare spends $600 more for obese patients each year
  • Medicaid spends $230 more per years for obese patients prescription drugs
  • Annual costs associated with obesity are now estimated at $147 billion
  • Healthcare costs associated with obesity are rising 9 percent per year

What strikes me is nobody seems to care about these numbers. We all kind of shrug them off; maybe we gripe modestly, but then we move on with life. Politicians debate how to fix the system; they try to figure out why we spend so much on healthcare and how we could spend less. They don’t however take the problem head on.

Until we start spending less on marginal life extension and start focusing on the obesity epidemic in America healthcare costs will continue to rise. You want to know how to live a longer life? Stop prolonging the life of the unhealthy with expesive treatments and start encorgaing and teaching people to stay healthy in the first place.

$147 billion dollars of spending are directly due to obesity, of our economy that represents 1 percent of the entire GDP for the nation. Currently as our nation is in recession that means GDP is falling and yet healthcare costs continue to rise. Even in the best of times GDP is only increasing at a rate of 2-3 percent. That means at these best of times rates that in 11 years obesity related healthcare spending will equal 2 percent of GDP, and in 18 years it will be 3 percent.

At some point something has to change. In my humble opinion we need to make drastic incentives for people to live healthier lives and conversely discourage obesity through progressively difficult to swallow measures. The simple fact that my health insurance costs the same for me as it does for my smoking, overweight coworker is insane. Drivers pay less if they're deemed to be in a safer demographic, it should be no different for healthy people and health insurance.

I feel it is wrong for healthy people and the American taxpayer to subsidize the unhealthy and lazy lifestyles that so many people follow. I’m not saying all obese people are unhealthy. I know there are exceptions to the norms. Some obese people have natural disadvantages such as genetics but most do not and many are simply not interested in changing lifestyles. They mooch the system and run up the cost for everybody. It should be their choice to live how they want but we should not have to pay for it; they should.

I’m just sayin’.

UPDATE 8/13/09: You might also be interested in viewing this video, The Skinny on Obesity, which aired on CNBC 8/10/09.

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