Fast food is cheap. Fat is expensive.

The Brookings Institute released a study this week on the direct and indirect costs of American obesity. The number being thrown around is somewhere around 215 billion dollars…an incomprehensible number that doesn’t mean much at a glance.

Let’s break it down in a few ways that make more, if not odd, sense.

The biggest portion of this directly relates to health care costs. An extra 147 billion is spent on obese adults every year compared to those who are of healthier weight. Another incomprehensible number, it basically means overweight people are more likely to have everything from diabetes to bad knees, and even depression.

The less direct costs are more fascinating. Disability and premature death costs seem more obvious compared to the bizarre 66 billion dollar cost in lost worker productivity associated with obesity.  Overweight people struggle with absenteeism due to health related issues, and  “presenteism” – decreased productivity while at work. Other work related expenses includes higher health insurance and benefit costs.

Fuel and transportation costs are other indirect, yet expensive, costs of obesity. Heavier loads require more fuel, and bigger vehicles. More fuel also means more greenhouse gas emissions, equaling big bad things for the environment.

The most removed and greyest area of the study looks at socio-economic status or “human capital”, with obese people being less likely to attain higher levels of education, marriage, and higher income potential. Again, this research is more difficult to verify and track.

So what do we do? Suggestions run the gamut and include moving to a walking neighborhood, where people tend to be, on average, 7 pounds less.

It is important to remember at the end of the day this study impacts all of us directly, with research indicating two-thirds of adults in the US now overweight
including one-third who are obese. At this time, there is no end in sight to the economic expenses which are anticipated to expand with our waists in upcoming years. Little changes will help, but a major paradigm shift in the way we think of food, health, work and life is needed to make a true difference.

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