Being obese might add thousands to living expenses

Associated PressSeptember 21, 2010 

  • Children who tested positive for a virus strain that causes respiratory and gastrointestinal illness weigh more than those who didn't, suggesting that infections may cause or contribute to obesity, a study shows.

    Obese children who were found to have been exposed to a strain called adenovirus 36 weighed about 35 pounds more on average than obese children who tested negative, researchers said Monday in the journal Pediatrics. Children, whether obese or not, who tested positive were 52 pounds heavier on average than those showing no evidence of the virus, according to the study of 124 kids, including 67 who were obese.

    While the number of obese children in the United States has tripled since 1980, the proportion of kids with the condition appears to have leveled off during the past decade, at about one in five, U.S.-sponsored researchers said in January. The latest study provides a possible link between obesity in children and a strain of adenovirus, author Jeffrey Schwimmer said.

    "Our study is one example of the complexity of obesity," said Schwimmer, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, in a telephone interview Sept. 14. "It can't simply be reduced to eating too much and moving too little. That's not the whole story."

    Bloomberg

— Obesity puts a drag on the wallet as well as health, especially for women.

Doctors have long known that medical bills are higher for the obese, but that's only a portion of the real-life costs.

George Washington University researchers added employee sick days, lost productivity, even the need for extra gasoline - and found the annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for a woman and $2,646 for a man.

That's far more than the cost of being merely overweight - $524 for women and $432 for men, concluded the report being released today, which analyzed previously published studies to come up with a total.

Why the difference between the sexes? Studies suggest larger women earn less than skinnier women, while wages don't differ when men pack on the pounds. That was a big surprise, said study co-author and health policy professor Christine Ferguson.

Researchers had expected everybody's wages to suffer with obesity, but "this indicates you're not that disadvantaged as a guy, from a wage perspective," said Ferguson, who plans to study why.

Then consider that obesity is linked to earlier death. While that's not something people usually consider a pocketbook issue, the report did average in the economic value of lost life. That brought women's annual obesity costs up to $8,365, and men's to $6,518.

The report was financed by one of the manufacturers of gastric banding, a type of obesity surgery.

The numbers are in line with other research and aren't surprising, said Dr. Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine and health economist at Duke University who wasn't involved in the new report.

Two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese, and childhood obesity has tripled in the past three decades. Nearly 18 percent of adolescents now are obese, facing a future of diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.

Looking at the price may help policymakers weigh the value of spending to prevent and fight obesity, said Schulman, pointing to factors such as dietary changes over the past 30 years and physical environments that discourage physical activity.

"We're paying a very high price as a society for obesity, and why don't we think about it as a problem of enormous magnitude to our economy?" he asks. "We're creating obesity, and we need to do a man-on-the-moon effort to solve this before those poor kids in elementary school become diabetic middle-aged people."

A major study published last year found medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for the obese than normal-weight people. Today's report added mostly work-related costs - things such as sick days and disability claims - related to those health problems.

It also included a quirky finding, a study that calculated nearly 1 billion additional gallons of gasoline are used every year because of increases in car passengers' weight since 1960.

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