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Taxpayers to Pay for Obese Costs?

This summer has seen much debate over proposals to expand the federal government’s role in health care provision.Little mentioned in the discussion is how soaring obesity rates — and related health care costs — would impact a new, taxpayer-financed system. One recent statistic stands out: from 2001 to 2006 health care costs for the obese grew almost three-times as fast as those for the normal-weight population. Specifically, health care dollars consumed by obese individuals jumped by 31% during that period compared to just 11% for those of normal weight. In real terms, the additional health care cost of being obese was $851 back in 2001. Five years later, it’s $1,833 — a whopping $1,000 increase.

The proportion of Americans with a BMI categorized as obese doubled in recent decades to a third of the population. Excess weight vastly increases the risk of expensive ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. To the extent that obesity is viewed as a preventable condition, this is bound to raise questions of equity, as those who make hard choices (daily exercise and proper diet) to maintain a healthy weight are required to subsidize those who choose inactivity and overeating.

Regardless of what transpires with health care reform, you can take steps today to avoid obesity — or return to a healthier weight — by filling up on fruit and vegetables, curbing cravings by meeting nutrient requirements, favoring fish over other animal proteins, choosing whole grains over refined, getting adequate sleep, waking up to breakfast each day and combining diet and exercise for best results.

Published September 1, 2009

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