It’s not earth shattering news that obesity is an issue in the United States. What makes this a larger concern, is instead of the problem getting resolved by the many, many initiatives that are being put into place by both governmental agencies and private sectors, it is continuously getting worse. In light of the recent economic casualties affecting the global economy, obesity and all of its health risks continues to place unnecessary pressure on already waning funds.
To emphasize the fact that health outcomes are not improving one can look at the results of a 1999 study published in JAMA (Journal of American Medicine Association). Data collected between 1988-1994 for NHANES III (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) were analyzed.
The sample size included 16,844 adults 25 and over who were considered overweight and obese. This is classified as a score of 30 or over by the BMI (Body Mass Index). This tool defines obesity based on the relation between an individual’s weight and height. Fifty five percent of women and 63% of men had a BMI of 25or over. The heavier the individual, the higher the prevalence of obesity related chronic illnesses. These illnesses include the following:
- Type 2 diabetes mellitus
- Gallbladder disease
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood cholesterol level
- High blood pressure
These conditions were more prevalent in younger as opposed to older adults. Two or more conditions per individual were found as weight increased, i.e. a correlation between increased illnesses with escalating weight. These results held across all racial and ethnic groups. The conclusion of the study you ask? Quite simple, one must reduce the incident of obesity in order to reduce the prevalence of co morbidities.
An analysis of data collected through the BRFSS (Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) estimated the prevalence of obesity in 2007. When broken down by state, this study found that not one state was able to meet the Health People 2010 objective of 15% weight reduction of obese adults. Obesity per state ranged from 18.7% to 32.0% of the population. Obesity was more prevalent in the South and lowest in the Western states. Of the participants in the BRFSS survey, 2.5.6% were obese. Non-Hispanic black women and black men were found to be the largest obesity group. Twenty seven states had a 25%-29% obesity prevalence.
Talking Numbers: How Much Does Obesity Cost?
From 1997-1999 hospital costs among children were $127 million which is up from 35 million during 1979-1981. The total direct costs of obesity in the United States were estimated to be approximately $117 billion, including $61 billion in direct costs and $56 billion in indirect costs. Just the act of not exercising, or physical inactivity, created associated healthcare costs of $76 billion in 2000.
Direct costs of obesity include any money spent on preventing obesity, diagnostic tests and treatment services which are related to being overweight. Indirect costs include morbidity and mortality costs. Morbidity costs, which are defined as monies related to illness, include the value of income lost from a decrease in job productivity. This also includes restricted activity as well as absenteeism and days spent immobile. Mortality costs, which are defined as death, refer to monies spent on premature deaths of overweight individuals. This includes families in which the primary provider may become disabled due to co morbidities associated with obesity or may die. From here, one can see an increase in welfare costs and in the case of small children, an increase in costs associated with the foster care system.
How Much Money Does Physical Activity Save?
Heart disease costs can be reduced by $5.6 billion if only 10% of adults began walking on a regular basis. If a 10% weight reduction was achieved and maintained, an overweight individual’s lifetime medical costs could be lowered by $2,200-$5,300. This is related to reducing costs associated with heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension.
Good Ways to Prevent Obesity Include What?
Stop the problem before it begins. How does one do that? Teach children from a young age, to eat well, exercise and generally take care of themselves. Breastfeeding mothers unwittingly reduce the incidence of obesity in children as a correlation has been found between breastfed babies and healthier weight outcomes. Perhaps the most important and easiest way an individual can remain healthy is eating well and exercising regularly. The results of such behavior alterations represent benefits for not only the individual, but as one can infer from the information discussed prior, also help save the country money as well.
Rachel Hayon, MPH, RN
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(NHANES) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2000
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