Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

United States paying high price for obesity

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
April 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The obesity epidemic in the United States is well known. It's estimated that one in four U.S. citizens is overweight. The U.S. is now paying the price for obesity, and not just in terms of health maintenance. The whole nation is now rushing to accommodate overweight Americans: U.S. hospitals are ripping out wall-mounted toilets to replace them with floor models to better support obese patients. In addition, cars are burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline more a year than if passengers weighed what they did in 1960.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In response, the U.S. health care reform law of 2010 allows employers to charge obese workers 30 percent to 50 percent more for health insurance if they decline to participate in a qualified wellness program.

The law is also persuading Medicare and Medicaid enrollees to see a primary care physician about losing weight, and funds community demonstration programs for weight loss.

The additional medical spending due to obesity is double previous estimates and exceeds even those of smoking, a new study shows, meaning higher health insurance premiums everyone pays to cover those extra medical costs.

Many see an analogy among the overweight and the cigarette smokers of yore. It was only after scientists gauged the damage that second-hand smoke brought to non-smokers, that legislators began to get tough by banning smoking in restaurants, and disallowing smoking within 20 feet of a public building.

Now, the startling economic costs of obesity, often borne by the non-obese, could become the epidemic's second-hand smoke. As economists put a price tag on sky-high body mass indexes, policymakers as well as the private sector are mobilizing to find solutions to the obesity epidemic.

"As committee chairmen, Cabinet secretaries, the head of Medicare and health officials see these really high costs, they are more interested in knowing, 'what policy knob can I turn to stop this hemorrhage?'" Michael O'Grady of the National Opinion Research Center says. O'Grady is the co-author of a new report for the Campaign to End Obesity, which brings together representatives from business, academia and the public health community to work with policymakers on the issue.

These findings do not sit well with all obese Americans. Advocacy groups formed to "end size discrimination" argue that it is possible to be healthy "at every size," taking issue with the findings that obesity necessarily comes with added medical costs.

They say that denominating the costs of obesity in dollars is not to stigmatize plus-size Americans even further. Analysts argue that the goal is to allow public health officials as well as employers to break out their calculators and see whether programs to prevent or reverse obesity are worth it.

Figures indicate that the obese are absent from work more often than people of healthy weight. The most obese men take 5.9 more sick days a year and the most obese women, 9.4 days more. Obesity-related absenteeism costs employers as much as $6.4 billion a year.

Even when poor health doesn't keep obese workers home, it can cut into productivity, as overweight employees grapple with pain or shortness of breath or other obstacles to working all-out. Such obesity-related "presenteeism" is also expensive.

Presenteeism is when a people show up to work even though they should be at home. Sometimes the individuals are ill, potentially contagious and not functioning at 100 percent, but they still feel like they should be in the office. Other times, presenteeism can apply to people who work late or come into the office during their vacation. The cost of presenteeism to both employees and workers can be significant.

The very obese lose one month of productive work per year, costing employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female. Total annual cost of presenteeism due to obesity: $30 billion.

The incidence of obesity in the United States has climbed from 13 percent to 34 percent over the last 50 years, while the percentage of Americans who are extremely or "morbidly" obese has rocketed from 0.9 percent to 6 percent.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)