The Economics of Obesity

by Lynn B. Johnson on January 19, 2010

dollar-weightIs your fat costing you money? Suze Orman thinks so. On this season of NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” weight-loss competition reality show, Orman quizzed the participants. Turns out that yes, an unhealthy waistline can contribute to poor fiscal health. This is bad news for the 34% of Americans who are obese.

Obese employees earn less money than their co-workers: Research shows that an obese worker earns $7,000 less than fellow employees. Orman attributes this in part to more sick days taken by obese people. Additionally, workers with above-normal body weight have an increased risk of short-term disability: from 7.3% for normal-weight workers to 14.9% for obese workers.

(That is, if you can find a job in the first place: A 2008 study showed that slender candidates were most likely to be hired, while obese individuals were least likely to be hired.)

Obese people might earn less, but they’re spending a remarkable amount of money. Americans spend $147 billion on obesity-related health issues each year, which is $57 billion more annually  than Americans spend to fight cancer. For gastric-bypass surgery alone, Americans spend $4.4 billion dollars each year! Orman said that 220,000 people get the surgery each year, at a cost of $20,000 per surgery. This is a staggering number, with studies that show a 6.4% death rate within five years of having bariatric surgery.

Obese and overweight people are also affecting our natural resources. According to a study by The Engineering Economist, for every pound added to the national average weight, an additional 39 million gallons of fuel are used per year.

Personally, I’ve lost 50 pounds since April, mostly through regular running and Rhythmball sessions (my dad’s imported exercise product), and then by  paying more attention to portion control and avoiding fast food. After an initial investment of about $200 (more than half of which was for a good pair of running shoes), my exercise regimen  hasn’t cost me a dime. Plus, now that I’m fitter, I eat less, which is helping to lower the grocery bill for my family. And, regular-sized clothes cost less than plus-sizes.

If you need more motivation to get healthy, here are an additional one million reasons: If you maintain an ideal weight over the next 40 years, Suze Orman says you’ll save $1,000,000. And being fiscally responsible is a great foray into physical health: Danny C. had the highest FICO score of his Biggest Loser competitors, and he ended up winning the whole show!

Is this a mere coincidence? I don’t think Suze Orman would say so. Would you?


That comment is more about her "predictions" for the biggest loser champ than anything else...I do believe the facts on overweight people earning less/spending more stuff...
April 14 at 18:15 pm
I dont buy it...sure people who are over weight can have bad credit...but I am in great shape and just now became debt free following finances are in control physical well being has been in my control for as long as I can remember...I think this is just another "plug" for a BS
April 14 at 18:14 pm
That's interesting how Suze Orman would think to pair physical and financial fitness, but I can see how they can go together. Great article, thank you.
January 20 at 14:42 pm

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