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Food for thought


May 1, 2012

Source: Benefitspro.com

If you’ve been paying attention to my rants over the years, it doesn’t take long to figure out how much I scream the paint off the walls about obesity in this country. It’s such a singularly classic representation of the worst of us.

“I’m free to do what I want. I’ll pay for it. And if I can’t, somebody else will.”

But even if I’m overstating the significance of our collectively burgeoning waistbands, obesity still stands (or sits) as probably our single greatest (remaining) preventable health care cost driver.

Now I’m no longer a lone voice in the wilderness. A handful of new studies just dropped that actually spell out some of the hard costs our soft bodies are ringing up.

The bottom line is obesity can now be tied to $190 billion in annual health care costs—more than 20 percent of the total we spend every year, according to a study in the January issue ofJournal of Health Economics. This is apparently twice the estimates of most experts.

Even worse—at least for employers—obesity racks up nearly $6.5 billion in absenteeism costs with an additional $30 billion in lost productivity, from those who still manage to show up. Not only that, but according to the Duke University study that broke these numbers, the less productive obese workers cost employers—on average—a month out of every year. And maybe least surprising of all, obese men rack up nearly six more sick days a year, while women tally up more than nine sick days annually.

This isn’t about how many of us are overweight, because we’ve all seen the numbers, with an upcoming HBO documentary reporting that 69 percent of us now weigh more than we should.

What this is about is getting hard numbers, with the obese (and particularly the morbidly obese) now costing the system far more than smokers.

Finally, and where it matters most to those of us in the business, Reuters reported that non-obese Americans pay higher health insurance premiums and taxes into Medicaid to pick up the tab for the obese.

The numbers, like the buffet lines, go on and on.