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The Hefty Price of Obesity

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Approximately 1.6 billion adults are now considered overweight by the World Health Organization with at least 400 million considered obese (1). Most of these adults live in the United States with 30 percent of Americans now considered obese. Blacks have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics have a 21 percent higher obesity prevalence compared with whites (2). That's an enormous number any way you look at it.

And with excess weight comes an excess of problems which have a snowball effect on productivity and the health of the nation. For example, joint pain and arthritis is the number one contributor to days lost in the workforce with excess weight being one of the most significant risk factors for osteoarthritis of the knee and inflammatory disease.

It's trite to say that America needs to become a healthy nation (financially and physically) and this involves a massive shift in lifestyle and habits. Unfortunately, in the recession, more people are forced to choose less healthy foods because being healthy and maintaining your weight is expensive, whether it be through eating better foods or paying for a gym membership. Sure you can just go for a run and all you need is shoes and running gear but a focused weight loss and management program involves more than just exercise; it's a total lifestyle plan.

And when times are tough, it's hard to shop at Whole Foods and justify organic and non-processed food purchases and it's also hard to commit to a wellness plan when you are trying to pay the bills and avoid foreclosure.

But the costs of not doing so are even greater and everybody ends up paying.

Consider the following:

  • In 2006, 9.1 percent of total U.S. medical expenses were as a result of obesity, compared with 6.5 percent in 1998 (3).
  • The total costs associated with obesity in the U.S. are at least $215 billion (4).
  • An obese individual spends $1,429 more per year on medical costs (42 percent more) than a person of normal weight (5).

If current trends continue, 110 million Americans will be obese by 2018 with $344 billion in health care costs being attributed to obesity in 2018. That's only eight years away!

And there are the further indirect costs due to inflammatory disease such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc, all with strong associated markers to obesity. Take diabetes for example. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes and diet and exercise are considered two of the major lifestyle changes you can make to decrease the risk of getting this disease. The prevailing belief about the cause of type 1 diabetes is that although someone may have a genetic predisposition for developing type 1 diabetes, it takes an environmental trigger or series of triggers (e.g., virus, toxins, drugs) to set the autoimmune process in motion. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercise and a strong immune system is therefore vital to decrease the risk factors.

New research was also recently presented at the American Heart Association's Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention annual conference in San Francisco which showed that over the last decade, soda consumption has conservatively caused:

  • 130,000 new cases of diabetes; and
  • 14,000 new cases of heart disease (6)

130,000 diabetes cases from soda! If you are concerned about your diabetes risk, here is a risk assessment test. If you know your risk, you can help lower it by eating nutritious meals and staying active.

In the next 25 years, the number of Americans living with diabetes will nearly double, increasing from 23.7 million in 2009 to 44.1 million in 2034. Over the same period, spending on diabetes will almost triple, rising from $113 billion to $336 billion, even with no increase in the prevalence of obesity, researchers based at the University of Chicago report in the December issue of Diabetes Care (7).

The number of those with diabetes covered by Medicare will rise from 8.2 million to 14.6 million, the researchers predict. Medicare spending on diabetes will jump from $45 billion to $171 billion. "If we don't change our diet and exercise habits or find new, more effective and less expensive ways to prevent and treat diabetes, we will find ourselves in a lot of trouble as a population," said the study's lead author Elbert Huang, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

So yes, it takes effort and commitment to be healthy, but the costs of not doing so are worn by all at the end of the day. And its getting worse not better and our kids will bear the burden. So put down the soda, get off the couch and get your body moving. And resist the temptation at the Golden Arches. Rich nations do not live any longer than those that are less economically powerful, in fact the opposite is true. Simple lifestyles and simple eating have been shown to lead to the greatest longevity. And it doesn't take that much to eat like a Greek!

And remember, you are also the best role model for your children's habits. If you eat well and lead a healthy lifestyle, chances they will also.

Craig Cooper is the founder of CooperativeHealth, The Prostate Cancer Institute and the leading men's health website www.prostate.net. He is the author of the soon to be released book, "The Prostate Diet: The 6 Pillars of Prostate Health". Become a fan of www.prostate.net on Facebook and get men's health updates on Twitter (http://twitter.com/Prostatenet). Also, check out Craig's "Healthy Living for Men" blog. More on Craig at www.craigcooper.net.

Sources:

1. World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/index.html

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html

3. Finkelstein EA et al. Health Affairs 2009; 28(5): 822-31

4. Brookings Institute study: http://www.brookings.edu/multimedia/vide/201/0914_obesity_hammond.aspx

5. Finkelstein EA et al.

6. American Heart Association: http://www.womenshealth.gov/news/english/636642.htm

7. Huang ES et al. Projecting the future diabetes population size and related costs for the US. Diabetes Care 2009 Dec; 32(12): 2225-29