The Personal Costs of Obesity

People who are very overweight face many difficulties that their normal-weight peers do not. Frequent doctor visits are a fact of life for very overweight people due to the development of weight-related disorders like diabetes and osteoarthritis. Along with the daily difficulties associated with these diseases, the very overweight person may be affected financially as a result of weight-related expenses.

Monetary Costs of Obesity

According to a June 2005 published study in the online version of the journal Health Affairs, per person health care spending for obese adults was 56 percent higher than for normal-weight adults in 2002. In 1987, obese adults with private health insurance spent $272 more per year on healthcare than did normal-weight adults. By 2002, that difference had increased to $1,244 per person per year.

According to a study published in the journal Economics and Human Biology in 2005, losing or gaining weight has a direct relationship with losing or gaining wealth. The study used data involving people who participated in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY), a nationally representative survey conducted by Ohio State 's Center for Human Resource Research.

The study measured each participant’s body mass index (BMI) scores by using their individual height and weight figures as part of a mathematical calculation. The BMI score is a rough measure of how much excess weight a person may carry.

The study found that decreasing BMI by 5.8 points resulted in an increase in wealth by more than four thousand dollars ($4,085). In addition, when BMI was reduced by 10 points, which is considered a large weight change, a wealth increase as much as a $12,720 was observed. In general, a one-unit increase in a person's BMI was roughly associated with a $1,300 or 8 percent reduction in wealth. But the changes varied dramatically by ethnicity and gender.

No one can promise that a loss of weight using effective treatment strategies like weight-loss surgery will lead to the kind of increased income seen in this study. But it’s reasonable to assume that the successful outcomes of weight-loss surgery patients would result in lower medical costs and far fewer weight-related financial strains.

Beyond Dollars and Cents

In addition to the negative financial impact that excess weight carries, there are also impacts on quality of life. People who are severely overweight may have difficulty performing simple daily tasks, such as tying one’s shoes or walking up a flight of stairs. Many obese people have trouble sitting in standard furniture or fitting into airplane or movie theater seats.

These problems may seem trivial to some, but they represent serious, multi-layered difficulties that can have a cumulative effect. If your size affects your lung capacity, you may have trouble sleeping, which may affect your performance at work, which may worsen the experience of day-to-day financial strains.

Little wonder then that depression is commonly linked with obesity and is often overlooked. As a result of daily difficulties and physical limitations, obese people often become a target for discrimination. As a result, the preoccupation with their negative body image often leads to depression. Studies have found an association between BMI and depression. In one study, a person’s risk of having major depression went up as his or her BMI entered the obese range.

Despite all these challenges, there is reason to hope that people who are very overweight can achieve normal weight. The fact that obesity can be described as a multi-layered disease only reinforces the fact that a multi-layered treatment plan may be needed. It is possible to change a long-standing weight problem.

How Do You See Yourself?

How you see yourself is important. Are you overweight? Are you obese? Some people with serious weight problems may deny they have a problem.

Experts who study obesity-related issues often use a person’s body mass index (BMI) score as a measure of the degree of obesity. According to the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), and the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), BMI scores fall into the following categories:

Normal weight 18.5-24.9
Overweight 25–29.9
Obese 30–34.9
Severely Obese 35–39.9
Morbidly Obese 40 or above

Your BMI score is very useful. It can give you a sense of how severe a weight problem you may have. People who are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or more) or severely obese (BMI of 35 – 39.9) with associated medical problems may want to consider weight-loss surgery, and your doctor is the person to talk to about weight-loss options that are likely to be safe and highly effective.

Calculating your BMI score is very important because it’s an objective assessment of the severity of the problem. Using the NHLBI BMI categories, you can tell exactly where you fit, even if it’s something you may not like to hear.

A study done on Dutch men and women’s perception of their own weight shows that the gap between weight perception and weight reality can be quite substantial. In that study, 53 percent of men and 39 percent of women were overweight or obese. And yet 56 percent of men and 53 percent of women in the study described themselves as having an appropriate weight. The study authors found a notable difference between how people perceived their own weight and their BMI scores.

That’s why you need your doctor’s objective evaluation of your situation. Whether you are overweight or obese, your doctor will help you decide on an overall weight-loss strategy. Even if you’ve had no luck keeping weight off through diets, exercise or commercial weight-loss plans, you may achieve sustained weight-loss with surgery, which is the most effective treatment in people with a BMI of 35 or greater.

You cannot afford not to act; obesity can cause a substantial financial burden in addition to other issues, including decreased quality of life and depression.