Obesity and being overweight and the associated health problems are estimated to be more costly than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. The cost of both wars is estimated to be around 150 billion dollars annually, according to the Pentagon. The most recent study on the cost of obesity found that the total cost of being overweight or obese is estimated to be 270 billion dollars annually. The cost of being overweight is estimated at 72 billion dollars a year and the cost of obesity is estimated to be 198 billion dollars a year, according to the Society of Actuaries (SOA).

This is a significant increase in only 3 years. A government-sponsored study in 2008 found that the cost was up to 147 billion dollars a year. This study was conducted by three leading research groups, including:

  • Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

The findings of the study were published in a 2009 issue of the health policy journal Health Affairs. Lead author Dr. Eric Finkelstein, director of RTI's Public Health Economics Program, and colleagues analyzed data from the 1998 and 2006 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys. They found that:

  • In 1998 the medical costs of obesity in the US were around 78.5 billion dollars a year, half of which was financed by Medicare and Medicaid.
  • Between 1998 and 2006, the prevalence of obesity in the US went up by 37 percent.
  • This rise in obesity added 40 billion dollars to the annual healthcare expenditures.
  • The annual healthcare costs of obesity were estimated to be 147 billion dollars in 2008.
  • As of 2008, obesity was responsible for 9.1 percent of annual medical costs compared with 6.5 percent in 1998.
  • The number of states with an adult obesity rate of 30 percent or more has tripled, from three to nine, since 2007.
  • The medical costs for an obese person are 42 percent higher than for a person of normal weight.
  • Medicare prescription drug payments for obese patients are about 600 dollars a year more than those of normal weight patients.
  • Obesity accounts for 8.5 percent of Medicare expenditure, 11.8 percent of Medicaid expenditure, and 12.9 percent of private insurance expenditure.

The authors defined obesity as having a body mass index, or BMI, higher than 30. BMI is defined as the individual's body weight divided by the square of his or her height.

Medical costs associated with being overweight or obese are measured by direct and indirect costs. Direct medical costs can include preventive, diagnostic, and treatment services related to obesity. Indirect costs relate to morbidity and mortality costs. Morbidity costs are defined as the value of income lost from decreased productivity, restricted activity, absenteeism, and hospital stays. Mortality costs are the value of future income lost by premature death.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University projected future obesity prevalence based on national survey data collected between the 1970s and 2004. They predicted that if these trends continue, by 2030, 86.3 percent of adults will be overweight or obese, and 51.1 percent obese. By 2048, every American adult would become overweight or obese. Total healthcare costs attributable to obesity and being overweight will double every decade to 860.7–956.9 billion US dollars by 2030, accounting for 16–18 percent of total US health-care costs.

Diet and Disease

It is now universally recognized that a poor diet increases the risk of chronic diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease and cancer. These risks are outlined in two World Health Organization reports: Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases and the more recent Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health which emphasizes the need to improve diets in individuals and populations across the world.

The total cost of cardiovascular diseases and stroke in the United States in 2009 is estimated to be $475.3 billion, according to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). The annual cost of obesity-related heart disease is around 8.8 billion.

The 2002 World Health Report estimated that just under 30 percent of coronary heart disease and almost 20 percent of strokes in developed countries are due to insufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables, with levels being below 600 grams per day.

Different aspects of diet impact cardiovascular health in different ways. Energy imbalance (when total dietary energy intake exceeds the amount of energy expended through metabolism and physical activity, generally as a result of high intakes of fatty or sugary foods) leads to weight gain and consequently obesity. High saturated fat intake can raise cholesterol levels. High salt intakes can raise blood pressure levels. Low intakes of fiber, fruit and vegetables also lead to greater susceptibility to cardiovascular disease and digestive disorders, including colon cancer.

Diet and Risk of Cancer

As scientific research progresses, the evidence that diet and nutrition is closely related to the risk for several types of cancer becomes more compelling. And while it is not yet possible to provide quantitative estimates of the overall risks, it has been estimated that 35 percent of cancer deaths may be related to dietary factors, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Diet has also been linked to increasing the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It also increases the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer, uterine cancer, colon cancer, kidney cancer, and cancer of the esophagus. Weight loss can lower the risk of all of these cancers, and regular physical activity lowers the risk of colon and breast cancers. Being overweight or obese appears to be one of the most important modifiable causes of cancer, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These recommendations for dietary change are based on years of scientific research and offer the potential for an effective public health approach to cancer prevention. Current research shows that diets low in fat and sugar and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and grain products are associated with reduced risks for many cancers.

The Standard American Diet (SAD)

Among the list of factors that increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, intestinal disorders, or just about any disease you can think of, the standard American diet has them all:

  • High in animal fats
  • High in saturated and hydrogenated fats
  • Low in fiber
  • High in processed foods
  • Low in complex carbohydrates
  • Low in plant-based foods

Cultures that eat the reverse of the Standard American diet, such as the Mediterranean diet and the Blue Zone Diet, which are low in saturated fat, high in complex carbohydrates, plant-based, and high in fiber have a lower incidence of cancer and coronary artery disease. What's disturbing is that the countries whose populations can afford to eat the healthiest disease-preventing foods don't. The United States has spent more money on cancer medical costs and cancer research than any other country in the world, while the American diet continues to produce a significant threat to our financial security.

So the facts are: Obesity breeds disease, and is draining the US economy. If you are overweight or obese and you feel patriotic, and you would like to defend your nation against financial ruin, you must first learn to change your lifestyle habits. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of overweight and obese people are emotional eaters. You can overcome emotional eating by meditating, exercising, taking stress-relieving supplements like GABA and 5-HTP, and eating healthy foods that help to ward off cravings, like raw fruits and vegetables, oatmeal, fatty fish, beans and eggs. People who go on a weight loss plan with friends or family lose more weight than people who go on a weight loss plan by themselves, according to a study from the University of Pittsburg. Now that you understand the economic cost of obesity, ask yourself, is obesity a threat to our financial security? If you agree that it is, then you may want to follow the advice of Mahatma Gandi: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Be of good health, and God bless America.

Author's Bio: 

Michael Locklear is a researcher and consultant with 30 years experience, studying health, nutrition, and human behavior. He has been president of the Global Peace Project since 1986, and he administrates the website www.Natural-Remedies-for-Total-Health.com as part of the Global Peace Project Educational Outreach Program. You can also find him on The Total Health Blog.