Facts & Figures of Obesity
Among other facts Dr. John Cawley discussed with us, he outlined the figures associated with obesity. He examined the direct and indirect costs of this condition, and gives us some staggering numbers. In this snippet, he shares the statistics on just how much obesity is costing us and how food prices play a part.
Q: “Just to put it in perspective, how much is obesity actually costing us, economically?” (15:30)
A: “So we’ve looked at this using a data site called the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey which is really neat because it has data on a huge number of people and it’s got really comprehensive information about their medical care utilization and cost and health insurance coverage and its also got information on their weight and height. Unfortunately the weight and height are self reported but it’s the best information we have. And so using that data over ten years, what we estimate is that obesity raises adult medical care costs by $3508 a year. That really is an eye opening number. It doesn’t include kids, so this is non-institutionalized adults, ages eighteen to sixty-four.
I remember asking, at a dinner party actually, when I was sitting next to a surgeon and I said, this is the current number we’ve come up with. This seems really high, what do you think? And she said, well no, because our anesthesiologists now, as a matter of course, after every surgery that involves an obese patient, has them spend the night in the ICU, because they’re concerned.
So it can be incredibly expensive. And really obesity makes any condition more expensive when you think of how it increases the risk of heart disease, it increases the risk of cancer, for a bedridden patient it increases the chance of bed sores. It’s just an incredibly expensive condition and if you add it all up, across all the adults in the U.S., the bill is $308.15 billion a year.”
Q: “When foods prices fell, that was correlated with obesity. How did that work?” (28:58)
A: “It’s actually pretty striking if you look at trends in food prices over the last two to three decades. The price of energy-dense foods has fallen, and by energy dense I mean high calorie low nutrient. Those have fallen relative to inflation. The price of soda pop, candy bars, pizza- those have actually gotten cheaper relative to inflation. Whereas fresh fruits and vegetables- the prices of those have grown faster than inflation. So relatively speaking, it’s become cheaper over time to eat energy-dense foods as opposed to fresh fruits and vegetables. You’d assume as something becomes cheaper, people will buy more of it.”
There are many areas of influence and this is only one piece of the puzzle. To hear the full podcast, visit iTunes for this episode.