Tallying the Cost of Being Overweight

Being overweight takes a toll in a number of familiar ways. We understand it raises risks of various diseases and may be painfully aware that it can lead to forms of discrimination, to cite two examples. But few know the concrete dollars-and-cents cost being overweight on a personal level.

Last year, researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health pieced together just such an estimate in a report presented at a panel discussion, moderated by the U.S. Surgeon General. They reviewed the data for costs related to weight and ended up analyzing 94 studies on a variety of factors. Their conclusion: The individual, annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for women and $2,646 for men. If you add the dollar value of life lost due to shorter life expectancy (a statistical technique common in research), those annual figures roughly double.

Medical costs account for the heaviest burden—66 percent of the cost for overweight women and 80 percent for men. But as increasing weight crosses the threshold into obesity (defined as a BMI of 30 or more), other costs gain relative importance. In fact, for obese women, those added losses amount to two thirds of the total.

Lost wages is one of these extra costs. On average, the researchers say, obese women make 6 percent less money than normal-weight women. Last year’s study estimated that this amounts to $1,855 less per year, based on a median yearly wage of $32,450. But some research indicates the disparity could be much higher. In a new report released this week, GWU researchers now say average wage differences may be more like $8,666 less for women and $4,772 less for men. (Women may take a bigger hit in part because men typically make higher wages to start with, but the researchers say they don’t know why women seem more penalized for being heavy.)

Other costs may previously have been underestimated as well. These include higher insurance rates, missed work due to illness, higher prices for clothing and even higher gas costs.

It appears the underlying goal of the research is to spur more aggressive efforts to treat and prevent obesity. But the news is a bit of a downer. How do you feel about these findings? Does this kind of research have value to you? Turning it around, do you feel there’s been a financial payoff if you’ve lost weight?

Losing weight is worth doing for more than just your health.  Find out which surgical weight loss procedure is right for you by speaking to an expert!  Dr. Dirk Rodriguez can answer all your questions about surgical weight loss in the Dallas area and help you make an informed decision.  Click here to schedule your personal online consultation with Dr. Dirk.