As discussed in last week’s post, obesity has a far wider impact than the health of one individual.
The U.S. Surgeon General declared obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States:
• 35 percent of women and 31 percent of men are considered seriously overweight
• 15 percent of children between the ages of six and 19 are overweight
• As the epidemic continues to rise, research indicates that obesity can shorten life expectancy by eight years.
The World Health Organization estimates that 2.1 billion people, nearly 30% of the world population, are also obese or overweight.
Everyone is affected by this issue. Family and friends exert a significant role in an individual’s weight. Today lets talk about the financial and work related impacts.
Unless you are currently underemployed, retired, or too young to be employed, you will typically spend at least a third of your time at work. That means our workplace defines in large part what we eat and drink and how much physical activity we have during the day.
To avoid the hazards of people sitting too long, some employers have tried to install standing desks or other contraptions to address this issue. Our workplace also affects commuting times, sleep patterns, relationships with family and friends, available food at home, energy to exercise, overall stress levels and many other aspects of life. Think about how much your time outside of work is spent thinking about, or potentially complaining about your workplace. Additionally, it can indirectly affect the entire family’s weight by determining the type of food and physical activity provided.
No matter how you prioritize work-life balance, work impacts all aspects of our lives, and in turn, obesity. Moreover, if work contributes to obesity, then currently slim individuals could soon become over weight. Employers should take heed when this happens. Excess body weight, even seemingly small amounts, can lead to many immediate and long term physical, psychological, and social ailments. Each of these ailments can in turn decrease productivity, increase healthcare costs, and decrease morale. These repercussions affect a business’s bottom line.
We are all paying a price for those extra pounds. The enormity of this economic burden and the huge toll that excess weight takes on health and well-being are beginning to raise global political awareness. It is clear that individuals, communities, states, nations, and international organizations must do more to stem this rising tide.
Two types of costs are associated with the treatment of obesity and obesity-related conditions:
Direct costs, are those that result from all outpatient and inpatient health services (including surgery), laboratory and radiological tests, and medications.
Indirect costs, are defined as resources that are lost. These fall into various categories:
- Value of lost work: Days missed from work are a cost to both employees (in lost wages) and employers (loss of productivity). Obese employees miss more days from work due to short-term absences, long-term disability, and premature death than nonobese employees. They may also work at less than full capacity (also known as presenteeism).
- Insurance: Employers pay higher life insurance premiums and pay out more for workers’ compensation for employees who are obese than for employees who are not.
- Wages: Some studies have shown that obesity is associated with lower wages and lower household income.
Obesity Costs Are Rising Overall. The NIH tabulated that obesity-related absenteeism and presenteeism cost U.S. employers $73 billion annually. Another sturdy measured that while normal-weight employees cost on average $3,838 per year in health care costs, overweight to morbidly obese employees cost between $4,252 and $8,067. In fact, each additional body mass index (BMI) point above normal weight costs $194-$222 per year, per employee. Studies have shown that over the course of a lifetime, per-person costs for obesity were similar to those for smoking. In middle-age men, treatment of five common obesity-related conditions (stroke, coronary artery disease, diabetes, hypertension, and elevated cholesterol) resulted in roughly $9,000 to $17,000 higher costs compared to normal-weight adults.
As one of the three most expensive man made burdens, obesity continues to negatively affect the health of billions of individuals worldwide. As a preventable disease, reforms must be made to address obesity through education, fitness, media, and employers. With rapidly growing obesity rates around the world, we must confront the issue now rather than allowing the costs to become insurmountable. Looking ahead, researchers have estimated that by 2030, if obesity trends continue unchecked, obesity-related medical costs alone could rise by $48 to $66 billion a year in the U.S.
There’s no question prevention is key to reversing the high toll obesity demands. It’s incumbent on everyone to face this epidemic head on. We must stop seeing this as a weakness or cosmetic issue, instead of the deadly disease it really is. We need more urgent programs to prevent and treat it. Reinstating physical education in schools so children see activity as important as knowledge. Demanding only healthy choices be offered in lunch programs, regardless of the cost or convenience. Having options available under everyone’s insurance to learn about nutrition, exercise and diet plans. Making food labels easy to read and on every product we eat, including restaurant menus. Requiring companies to offer alternatives to sitting hours at one time.
To make true advances, these initiatives must be part of a concerted effort by governmental, health, nonprofit organizations, food companies, advertisers, and individuals to make healthy weight the norm rather than the exception.
Working together, demanding healthier alternatives for all of us is a great first step.