NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 5, 2006

Heavy people do not spend more than normal-size people on food, but their life insurance premiums are two to four times as large.  They can expect higher medical expenses, and they tend to make less money and accumulate less wealth in their shortened lifetimes.  They can have a harder time being hired, and then a harder time winning plum assignments and promotions, says the New York Times.

According to estimates by Judith A. O'Brien, the director of cost research at the Caro Research Institute, a health costs consulting firm:

  • Complications from obesity, particularly diabetes, which afflicts 21 million Americans, push up the bill: $44,000 for a heart attack, $40,200 for a stroke or $37,000 for end-state kidney disease.
  • Amputating just a toe, a not uncommon consequence of untreated diabetes, averages $15,000, she estimates.

Academics have not spent much time calculating what that care costs the overweight individual. Instead, they look at what obesity costs society or insurers:

  • The sum usually arrived at is about $80 billion a year and steadily growing.
  • The government or insurers pay about 85 percent of that.

In other words, the fit and the fat pay for it indirectly through taxes or higher health insurance premiums.

While the health problems ravage savings, an overweight person may have difficulty accumulating a nest egg in the first place, says the Times:

  • One of the earliest sociological studies of the overweight, in 1966, found that the heaviest students had a harder time getting into top colleges.
  • More recent studies have found that the obese, particularly white women, are paid less; a study by John H. Cawley, an associate professor of human ecology at Cornell University, found that a weight increase of 64 pounds above the average for white women was associated with 9 percent lower wages.

Source: Damon Darlin, "Extra Weight, Higher Costs," New York Times, December 2, 2006.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Health Issues