Will Obesity Bankrupt the USA?

Last month, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease.

The very next day, representatives of both the Senate and House of Reps introduced bipartisan bills that would require Medicare to pick up the tab for obesity treatments…including prescriptions, counselling and bariatric surgeries.

One of those bills, the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, presents the following findings:

Congress makes the following findings:

(1) According to the Centers for Disease Control, [highlight color=”yellow”]about 35 percent of adults aged 65 and over were obese[/highlight] in the period of 2007 through 2010, representing over 8 million adults aged 65 through 74.

(2) Obesity [highlight color=”green”]increases the risk for chronic diseases and conditions[/highlight], including high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

(3) More than half of Medicare beneficiaries are treated for 5 or more chronic conditions per year. The [highlight color=”yellow”]rate of obesity among Medicare patients doubled from 1987 to 2002, and spending on those individuals more than doubled[/highlight].

(4) Obese men and women at age 65 have decreased life expectancy of 1.6 years for men and 1.4 years for women.

(5) The [highlight color=”pink”]direct and indirect cost of obesity is more than $450 billion annually[/highlight].

(6) On average, an obese Medicare beneficiary costs [highlight color=”green”]$1,964 more than a normal-weight beneficiary[/highlight].

(7) The prevalence of obesity among older Americans is growing at a linear rate and, left unchanged, [highlight color=” blue”]nearly half of the elderly population will be obese in 2030[/highlight] according to a Congressional Research Report on obesity.

And that’s just America’s seniors we’re talking about.

  • What about the huge glut of boomers just entering their senior years?
  • What about all of America’s children raised on a diet of processed food and soda?
  • What about all of America’s poor who can’t afford to eat healthy food?

What happens when they become seniors and medicare starts footing the bill? What happens when medicare coverage evolves into Obamacare coverage and everyone in America becomes eligible for government funded obesity treatments?

And we haven’t even discussed health conditions related to obesity that are already covered by medicare and Obamacare.

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Certain forms of cancer
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis and joint replacement
  • Liver disease
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Depression
  • Etc, etc, etc…

Because all of these medical conditions are related to obesity and primarily caused by the same “modern” lifestyle that causes obesity….

  • Inactive
  • Stressed out
  • Low nutrition diet
  • High calorie diet
  • High consumption of processed food

And it’s not getting any better. According to the OECD and CDC, 35% of Americans were obese as of 2010…and that percentage is climbing year after year after year.


What happens if we keep getting fatter?

Projections indicate that if we keep getting heavier at the projected rate, “the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension and arthritis could increase 10 times between 2010 and 2020—and double again by 2030”.  

This means that America could be looking at “more than 6 million cases of type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 400,000 cases of cancer in the next two decades”.

Obesity could contribute to more than 6 million cases of type 2 diabetes, 5 million cases of coronary heart disease and stroke, and more than 400,000 cases of cancer in the next two decades.

And just in case you’re one of those few people who looks after themselves and doesn’t have to worry about obesity, heart disease, etc…

Remember that these health conditions are costing all of us real money…

obesity costs

As you can see in the chart above (look at the SOLID line), total medical expenditure costs per person increase exponentially as individual Body Mass Index rate rise linearly.

Which is not good considering the public cost of obesity is going to keep rising…which means [highlight color=”yellow”]your insurance premiums and tax burden is going to keep rising[/highlight]…even if you’re in tip-top shape.

More Obesity Economic Data

  1. Estimates of the medical cost of adult obesity in the US range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per annum.
  2. Obesity costs Medicare $61.8 billion per year
  3. Obesity makes up 8.5% of the Medicare budget
  4. Obesity makes up 11.8% of the Medicaid budget
  5. Based on current trends, the cost of obesity to the US are expected to increase by between $50 and $70 billion per year

And that’s not including indirect costs such as lost productivity, insurance premiums and lost wages. It has been estimated that [highlight color=”yellow”]America could be losing up to $580 billion in GDP per year[/highlight] thanks to lost productivity due to obesity.

The following infographic, created by the Public Health Dept. of George Washington U highlights these financial costs (and future cost estimates). The full infographic is available here.

obesity financial cost

Is there hope for America’s economic waistline?

YES. Analysis of the current data indicates that if the average American BMI was reduced by just 5% by the year 2030, rates of disease would drop significantly and nearly every state in the nation would save between 6.5 to 7.9% in healthcare costs.

For a giant state like California, this would mean an additional $81.7 billion dollars not spent on obesity & related illnesses.

And how do we reduce those obesity rates???

That’s the $81.7 billion dollar question.

  • You’ve got nutrition experts saying that they need to educate the public on how to eat healthfully.
  • You’ve got politicians eager to enact taxes and bans to force us to stop eating junk food
  • You’ve got diet gurus publishing a new crop of diet books every January
  • You’ve got celebrity personal trainers willing to sell you their master plan

And so far, it ain’t working 😦

fat-couple walking 



  1. Oh it works alright, and it comes at a pretty penny too. I’m fortunate that I have a life style that sustains it. Lost 70lbs, took body fat down to below 18%, I’ve kept it off for a substantial amount of time. Cost out of my pocket? Between trainer, gym, running club and races, conservatively $5k a year. Is it worth it? Every single penny, every single day. Thanks for the post Doug, always enjoy your blogs!

  2. I’m amused by the medical expenditures chart, because I’m on the high side of the BMI axis, and yet I haven’t been to the doctor in years. In fact, all of the women in my family are healthy, and almost all of them are overweight. I think we break that chart.

    I have to ask, since I can’t tell, was the final picture supposed to be positive or negative?

  3. Obesity may not bankrupt the USA. However, it would create a huge weight on the general expenditure on healthcare. But, why worry about that? The government has agreed that obesity is a disease, right? So, the government has a duty to bankroll obesity treatment in the manner it does to other diseases! Maybe at a point in time, government may see the folly in designating obesity as a disease and would renege in order to free up the huge expenditures allocated to ‘treating’ obesity.

  4. Obesity is a national crisis and personal crisis for those that suffer from it. Switch to a whole foods diet that eliminates all processed sugars from our diet would, as a first step, go a long way to addressing the crisis. Making that kind of change would be difficult for most people. But not impossible. We need a national education campaign similar to the anti-smoking campaign that has resulted in millions of people stopping smoking.

  5. Why waste our taxes on giving people the easy way out? Educate people about decent eating strategies such as Paleo, instead of making people think they need to starve themselves or go vegan following the worthless drivel like the food pyramid, that is so often forced down our throats.

  6. In April I weighed 500 pounds. Today I weigh just under 450. It’s hard, but possible to lower your big numbers. I’m still going. For me, it’s being held accountable that works. I’m healthy besides being obese. I’m lucky that I don’t have joint issues, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. But I don’t want those things as part of my future, either. And I certainly don’t want to make others pay for it.

  7. Also, I wanted to address the question you brought up about poor people. It IS a vicious cycle when it comes to that problem. Being obese counts against you in the workplace. It’s prejudice, but you rarely have proof of it. I’ve lost out on being hired and have been fired shortly after being hired more times than I’d like to admit. This makes earning a living wage hard. In turn, this makes eating healthy hard. I’m making it work, but barely. When an apple costs more than a box of four servings of macaroni and cheese… something is wrong with that picture.

  8. Wow, Destiny, thank you for making this point. I’ve been in the same habits for a few years now, buying pretty much the same sort of things when I go to the grocery. I hear things about the cost of food, but until you made this point, it didn’t really sink in for me. I appreciate you brining out awareness like this.

    Also, major congrats on taking steps to improve your health!!!! I know it’s hard and it sounds like you’re doing a great job at it. Keep up the good work!

  9. I don’t know how we have arrived at this point, but with all of the great things our society has to offer, there are some terribly bad aspects that have cropped up.

    WHile I agree fully in personal responsibility (bravo on dropping 50lb by the way), our society has:

    1. Made it very, very easy for obesity & related chronic disease to explode in numbers
    – we design our communities to require a car
    – we value fast & cheap food over nutritious & delicious meals
    – we build an economy that now requires everyone to have a “job” robbing a nuclear family of a homemaker who could prepare healthy meals
    – our governments subsidize companies who produce junk/processed food and ignore healthy food producers
    – our healthcare systems are based on disease symptom reduction not health promotion
    – etc…
    2. Mastered the “art” of being a bunch of uncaring, hurtful a-holes….while maintaining an air of political correctness. And unfortunately for the obese population, making fun of fat people isn’t politically incorrect. And when it’s socially acceptable to make fun of a group of people, it’s more likely that people will be prejudiced against them in other ways…ie lower wages, etc.

    It’s a vicious little circle of poor health and meanness that we have created 😦

  10. I wish I had words to describe how grateful I am for you and your blog Doug. You are always so right on.

    Your #1 point reminded me of a statement I heard in a documentary recently; food is no longer treated as a necessity, but as a commodity.

    I hate this truth! What can we do to turn this around?

  11. You’re right. Being fat means you will, at some point, be the butt of a lot of jokes. I’m no exception. I’m currently writing about it, actually. It’s acceptable to be prejudice against me. That doesn’t mean I have to accept it. I stand up for myself and I carry more confidence than a lot of people I know. I was raised to be emotionally and mentally strong. Not everyone in my position is that lucky.

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