NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 11, 2005

The rapidly growing overweight and unfit population in California could cost the state $28.7 billion this year in health care expenses, injuries and lost productivity, 32 percent more than five years ago, according to a study conducted for the California Department of Health Services.

State health officials who commissioned the study said they were surprised by the scope of the problem. "The obesity epidemic is more than a public health crisis," said Kim Belshe, California Health and Human Services secretary. "It is an economic crisis."

According to researchers:

  • California was the 27th-leanest state last year -- it was the sixth leanest in 1990 -- and has the third-fastest-growing rate of obesity, behind New Mexico and Georgia.
  • While more than half of California adults are overweight or obese, about 1.7 million residents are so obese they qualify for weight-loss surgery, such as stomach stapling.

"This is really a wake-up call," says Dr. Richard J. Jackson, the state's public health officer.

  • Lost productivity, including sick days and disability leaves, cost $11.2 billion in 2000, say researchers.
  • Medical costs associated with inactivity and obesity, such as diabetes and heart treatment, were pegged at $10.2 billion.
  • And on-the-job sprains and other injuries among the overweight and unfit resulted in $338 million in workers' compensation payments.

Inactivity -- defined as fewer than three 20-minute workouts a week in the last month --was identified as the most expensive risk factor. Nearly half of all California adults fell into this category in 2000.

The costs in all categories will rise in 2005 unless "aggressive action is taken," say researchers.

Source: Lisa Girion, "Obesity Is Costly to State, Report Says," Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2005; based upon: David Chenoweth, "The Economic Costs of Physical Inactivity, Obesity, and Overweight in California Adults: Heath Care, Workers' Compensation, and Lost Productivity," California Department of Health Services, April 2005.


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