The news story getting a great deal of attention this week was first reported by Reuters and then picked up by other media outlets. Obesity is on the rise, and our society is challenged not only by the costs of obesity, but also by meeting the societal needs of obese individuals. Reuters cited many design changes that are occurring; for example, some U.S. hospitals are replacing wall-mounted toilets with sturdier floor toilets to better support heavy patients. Seats on trains and in sports stadiums are now larger. Wheelchairs and ambulance stretchers (and some ambulances too) are now larger than they were just a few years ago. The Reuters news story can be found at http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/30/us-obesity-idUSBRE83T0C820120430.
The U.S. health care reform law of 2010 allows employers to charge obese workers 30-50% more for health insurance if they decide to not participate in wellness programs. The law also encourages obese individuals who have Medicare and Medicaid to see primary care physicians about losing weight, and funds community weight loss demonstration programs.
The percentage of Americans who are obese (with a BMI of 30 or higher) has tripled since 1960, to 34%, while the incidence of morbid obesity (BMI above 40) has risen sixfold, to 6%. The obese are absent from work more often than people of healthy weight. Obesity-related absenteeism costs employers as much as $6.4 billion a year.
The high medical costs of obesity are well known. However, recent estimates put the price tag at about $190 billion—yes, billion—per year. This is double recent estimates, and is reflecting more precise methodology in determining accurate medical costs. The high costs, as well as the impact of obesity on our society, are frightening. So pass the carrots, please.