July 28, 2009 Jeanne Rust

The Cost of Treating Obesity

This morning on MSNBC, I heard a journalist say that the cost of treating obesity is 80% higher than the cost of treating ALL cancers. I also saw articles in today's Wall Street Journal and New York Times about the cost of treating obesity in America and how these costs have soared.

The medical costs of treating obesity now approaches $147 billion, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The medical costs of obesity have essentially doubled since 1998, and now account for 9.1% of all medical costs in the US.

Meanwhile, the prevalence of obesity has increased 37% from 1998 to 2006. The average American is 23 pounds overweight and consumes 250 calories more per day now than 20-30 years ago.

The CDC has a small budget for nutrition and obesity programs and is discouraging the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks. In April's New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Frieden, CDC Director, and Kelly Brownell, a professor at Yale, proposed a penny-an-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, saying that these drinks can be the single biggest cause of obesity.

So,we have the information — but what are we going to do about it?

  • We need a concentrated media campaign like the "no smoking" campaign, with an equal concentration and dispersal of information.
  • We need to focus on health — not weight! There are many people who will never be thin, but they can still have healthy blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. This is known as "metabolic fitness". We need to stop using the word "diet" in every single sentence we speak or write. Diets don't work. We all know that.
  • It's time to put an end to discrimination against obese people. We need to make fresh fruits and vegetables available at affordable prices in disadvantaged neighborhoods. We need better nutrition education in the schools.

One of the scariest things I heard was that as obesity is increasing, the number of people with anorexia is increasing as well. Is this in reaction to the greater numbers of obese and overweight people?