The numbers behind the alarming increase in obesity since 1960 are startling. The number of obese Americans has increased to about 34% of the population, while the number of morbidly obese Americans has gone from 1% to 6%. Accompanying this rise in body weight is a significant increase in the cost associated with lost productivity, increased health care expenses, and increases in insurance premiums and Medicaid costs.
A new study published by economists at Duke University details exactly how pervasive the cost increases have become. The study shows that the average morbidly obese person loses about one month of productive work per year. This equates to a loss of about $3,800 per obese man and $3,000 per obese female per year for employers.
The average obese person also spends about $3,271 in health-care expenses per year, as opposed to only $512 for non-obese people. This increase in health care costs is absorbed by the non-obese and the obese alike. The study shows that the average obese man costs a total of $967 per year in health-care premiums or Medicaid expenses that must be paid by others. The cost for an obese woman is more than triple that, at about $3,220 per year.
As costs continue to rise, lawmakers and policymakers have begun addressing systemic problem caused by the rise in obesity. For example, the health-care reform law of 2010 allows employers to increase health care premiums paid by obese workers by up to 50% if that worker refuses to participate in an approved wellness program.