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10 Flabbergasting Costs of America's Obesity Epidemic

By Keith Speights - Apr 4, 2013 at 2:05PM

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How much is America's obesity epidemic costing? 10 off-the-scales numbers tell the scary story.

Obesity is costing us big time. Three times more Americans are obese now than were in 1960. Six times more Americans are now extremely obese than a half-century ago. Unfortunately, everyone is paying for this obesity epidemic. How much? Here are 10 flabbergasting numbers related to the costs of obesity.

1. $190 billion -- That's the amount of added medical costs every year that are estimated to stem from obesity-related problems. This total amounts to nearly 21% of total U.S. health care expenditures.  

2. 105% -- According to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, this is the increased amount that obese Americans pay for prescription drugs compared to individuals who aren't obese.

3. $3.4 billion -- Call this the cost of the laws of physics. Cars burn around 938 million gallons of gasoline per year more than they would if Americans weighed what they did in 1960. At the current average U.S. gasoline cost of $3.64 per gallon, that adds up to $3.4 billion per year. 

4. $164 billion -- The Society of Actuaries estimates that U.S. employers lose this amount in productivity annually due to obesity-related issues with employees. 

5. $6.4 billion -- Every year this amount is estimated to be lost due to employee absenteeism related to obesity

6. $1 billion --  Another laws of physics annual cost. U.S. airlines consume an extra 350 million gallons of fuel per year due to overweight passengers. At an average jet fuel cost of $2.87 per gallon, those dollars add up. 

7. $14.3 billion -- This is how much childhood obesity costs the U.S. each year, according to a published study from the Brookings Institution

8. $62 billion -- Medicare and Medicaid spend nearly this amount every year on obesity-related costs. Of course, this really means that taxpayers spend this amount. 

9. $66 billion -- Columbia University researchers say that if current trends don't change, obesity-related annual medical costs in the U.S. could increase this amount by 2030 -- on top of current expenditures. 

10. $580 billion -- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts that annual economic productivity loss due to obesity could hit this staggering amount by 2030 unless the current situation changes. 

Tipping the scales
Unfortunately, things are getting worse. Just look at the best state in the U.S. when it comes to obesity. Colorado's adult obesity rate in 1995 was 13.9%. The worst state, Mississippi, had a rate of 19.4%. Fast-forward the clock to today. Colorado is still the best. However, the state's adult obesity rate now stands at 20.7% -- higher than the worst state less than two decades ago.

Is there any good news that could tip the scales in the battle against obesity? Thankfully, yes. Many states have taken action by implementing legislation that could help, including school programs that target better nutrition.

Wellness programs show the potential to reduce obesity -- and they're cost-effective. Studies have found that employers can save up to $6 per person for every $1 spent on these programs. Employees could have ample motivation to participate. Under Obamacare, employers can charge workers up to 50% more for health insurance if they refuse to participate in wellness programs.

Several new drugs could also help in addressing the obesity epidemic. VIVUS (VVUS) currently markets weight-loss pill Qsymia. Arena Pharmaceuticals (ARNA) shouldn't be too far behind. The company received Food and Drug Administration approval for its drug, Belviq, but is awaiting final scheduling by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Contrave, a weight-loss pill from Orexigen Therapeutics (NASDAQ: OREX), is still in a late-stage clinical study but could hit the market next year if ultimately approved.

Let's hope that these and other solutions make a difference. The costs if they don't are enormous.

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