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What obesity costs, state by state

Want to reduce the cost of U.S. health care? A whole bunch of us need to eat less and exercise more.

By Karen Datko Aug 10, 2010 10:41AM

A new federal report says more than 72 million Americans were obese in 2009 -- a 2.4 million increase in just two years. That excess poundage adds an estimated $147 billion to U.S. health care costs each year.

How fat are the folks in your home state, and what's the extra health care cost there? 24/7 Wall St. calculated the Obesity Index based on information in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.


But first, some background (post continues after video):

  • Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more. Don't know your BMI? A handy chart in the federal report provides guidelines. For instance, if you're 5 feet 6, you're obese if you weigh more than 186 pounds. (A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is "overweight.")
  • Being obese adds an estimated $1,429 to a person's annual health care costs, the CDC report said. Diabetes, heart disease and other conditions linked to obesity are expensive to treat. (BTW, another study found that obese people take more time off from work.)
  • That 72 million estimate, based on a phone survey, is probably low. You know how people tend to lie about their weight (although some suspect the study suggests we're getting more honest about it).

Widespread obesity is not merely a dollars-and-cents issue, of course. The consequences are only now becoming known. The latest news: Girls are reaching puberty at an earlier age, and obesity is thought to be a factor.

Now for some results from the Obesity Index:

  • Colorado and Washington, D.C., have the lowest rates of obesity -- although they're nothing to brag about. At 18.6%, Colorado's obesity rate spawns an additional $1.3 billion in health care costs each year. Washington's 19.7% equals just over $1 billion in extra spending.
  • All other states have rates exceeding 20%, and nine contiguous states have an obesity rate of 30% or more (six more than in 2007):
    • Mississippi: 34.4% obesity rate, $1.45 billion in extra health care costs.
    • Louisiana: 33%, $2.9 billion.
    • Tennessee: 32.3%, $2.9 billion.
    • Kentucky: 31.5%, $1.9 billion.
    • Oklahoma: 31.4%, $1.65 billion.
    • West Virginia: 31.1%, $808 million.
    • Alabama: 31%, $2 billion.
    • Arkansas: 30.5%, $1.26 billion.
    • Missouri: 30%, $2.56 billion.

"Over the past several decades, obesity has increased faster than anyone could have imagined it would," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said at a press conference. "Obesity has doubled in adults and tripled in children."

Why are we a nation of so many fat people? Obvious answer: We eat too much and move too little. Another factor is a lack of interest in and/or access to food that's good for us. Isn't it crazy that the city of Detroit has no major chain grocery stores (although Meijer plans to open one in 2012)?


Education also appears to matter. "The (obesity) rate for adults who didn't graduate from high school was 32.9%, compared with 20.8% among people with a college degree," The Wall Street Journal said.

It's very clear: We need to lose weight. The only point of dispute seems to be what health care professionals should call people who are busting the scales. British Public Health Minister Anne Milton prefers "fat." The Daily Mail reports:

The former nurse said larger people were less likely to bother to try to lose weight if they were told they were obese or overweight than if the doctor was blunt and said they were "fat." But health experts argued against such plain speaking because they fear it could stigmatise overweight people.

For information about weight loss, check out First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move website and the National Institutes of Health obesity Web page.


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