Thursday, May 03, 2012

Cut the Fat, Cut the Gas Consumption?

In the past few days, there have been a series of reports about the costs of obesity on the American economy. The study attempts to quantify how much obesity costs for health care, transportation, and other factors.
Because obesity raises the risk of a host of medical conditions, from heart disease to chronic pain, the obese are absent from work more often than people of healthy weight. The most obese men take 5.9 more sick days a year; the most obese women, 9.4 days more. Obesity-related absenteeism costs employers as much as $6.4 billion a year, health economists led by Eric Finkelstein of Duke University calculated.

Even when poor health doesn't keep obese workers home, it can cut into productivity, as they grapple with pain or shortness of breath or other obstacles to working all-out. Such obesity-related "presenteeism," said Finkelstein, is also expensive. The very obese lose one month of productive work per year, costing employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female. Total annual cost of presenteeism due to obesity: $30 billion.

Decreased productivity can reduce wages, as employers penalize less productive workers. Obesity hits workers' pocketbooks indirectly, too: Numerous studies have shown that the obese are less likely to be hired and promoted than their svelte peers are. Women in particular bear the brunt of that, earning about 11 percent less than women of healthy weight, health economist John Cawley of Cornell University found. At the average weekly U.S. wage of $669 in 2010, that's a $76 weekly obesity tax.


The medical costs of obesity have long been the focus of health economists. A just-published analysis finds that it raises those costs more than thought.

Obese men rack up an additional $1,152 a year in medical spending, especially for hospitalizations and prescription drugs, Cawley and Chad Meyerhoefer of Lehigh University reported in January in the Journal of Health Economics. Obese women account for an extra $3,613 a year. Using data from 9,852 men (average BMI: 28) and 13,837 women (average BMI: 27) ages 20 to 64, among whom 28 percent were obese, the researchers found even higher costs among the uninsured: annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271 compared with $512 for the non-obese.

Nationally, that comes to $190 billion a year in additional medical spending as a result of obesity, calculated Cawley, or 20.6 percent of U.S. health care expenditures.
One aspect that seems to have currency is that a nation of overweight people driving and flying costs more - a whole lot more - than a nation that would weigh at recommended levels. Reducing obesity levels could save up to a billion gallons of gasoline a year.
The Atlantic reports that the amount of fuel we're using is on the rise as well, as heavy occupants need more fuel to get from Point A to *insert drive-thru joke here*. A 2006 study shows that Americans weigh so much more than they did in 1960 that we're using up almost an additional billion gallons of petrol every year.

That's about $4 billion a year at today's gas prices, and nearly one percent of overall fuel usage. And that was back in 2006 – as we continue to plump up, the dollars continue to pile up. Inside Line reports that each pound we gain as a population adds up to another $39 million. It's too bad we can't get stop/start tech for our appetites.

Regular readers might remember a similar story about the 2006 study that claimed the U.S. is using an extra 153 million gallons a year. That was an estimate based on actual fuel deliveries. The new number, 938 million gallons, comes from engineer Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois.
Considering that automakers are spending billions of dollars trying to shave just a few pounds off their automobiles to make them more fuel efficient for EPA testing (and the Consumer Reports real world driving results that factor into purchasing decisions for many consumers), the fact that so many people are overweight negates the fuel economy measures that automakers are putting into their vehicles.

People have to realize that their weight costs them considerably. A sedentary lifestyle helps no one, least of all those who lead them.

At the same time, taxing sugar or fast food isn't the solution either - not when so many people simply don't exercise or when you see all the millions of people struggling with diet plans and exercise plans.

Responsible eating habits help, but it comes down to exercise and the need for people to actually motivate themselves to get off the couch and do something - anything - that gets them moving.

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