What Are the Consequences?

Declining Health

According to the American Heart Association, one in three U.S. children and teens are now considered overweight or obese. The long term consequences of this childhood obesity epidemic are devastating — the AHA warns that today's children may be the first generation in U.S. history to lead shorter and less healthy lives than their parents.

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Obesity is linked to rising U.S. rates of dozens of chronic illnesses and conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer:

  • Diabetes: An imbalanced diet and a lack of exercise can cause insulin resistance and full-fledged type 2 diabetes. Like obesity, the rate of diabetes have risen nearly 70% since 1995.
  • Cardiovascular disease: This disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and obesity is the leading risk factor. In 2007, one-quarter of all U.S. deaths were from heart disease.
  • Cancer: A close second behind heart disease as the leading cause of death in America, obesity contributes to many types of cancer. In fact, weight gain and obesity are considered a contributing factor in 20% of new cancer diagnoses.
  • Depression: Numerous studies have suggested a link between depression, obesity, and weight gain, especially among children.
  • Reproduction: Research indicate obesity reduces fertility rates and increases the chance of miscarriage in pregnant women.
  • Respiratory disease: Sleep apnea and obesity hypoventilation syndrome are more common in overweight individuals, as is asthma.
  • Cognitive health: Neurologist have identified a link between obesity and cognitive decline, including memory loss and thinking skills.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders: Obesity is a leading cause of arthritic pain, injuries, and atrophy in muscles and joints, often in the knee, ankle, foot, and shoulder.

Rising Costs

Estimates vary, but the annual medical expenses related to obesity Americans are staggering. One recent study from Harvard's School of Public Health estimates obesity may account for as much as $190 billion annually or 21% of all U.S. medical expenses. Per capita, the cost of medical care for obese patients is estimated to be somewhere between 36% to 150% higher than for non-obese patients.

Indirect costs are far more difficult to calculate, because they include lost productivity from individuals taking leave from work, higher transportation costs, and higher insurance rates. But to get an idea, the average U.S. firm with 1,000 or more employees loses $285,000 per year from such costs associated with obesity.

Between institutional costs and individual expenses, obesity is by far most expensive condition out there. With over 75 million Americans trying to lose weight, the U.S. market for diet drugs, books, pills, meal replacements, commercial weight-loss chains, and such is colossal, valued at over $60.9 billion.