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The Costs of Obesity

In December 2012, the New York Times reported that the obesity rates among children are starting to drop. New York reported a 5.5 percent drop, Philadelphia a 5 percent drop and Los Angeles, 3 percent. Even the state of Mississippi is showing a reduction of weight. This is really good news! The rates have been steadily climbing over the past 30 years or so and presently, there are about 12.5 million children struggling with weight in the United States.1 Health professionals and researchers have been overly concerned with staggering numbers such as this.

Earlier this year, Home Box Office (HBO) aired a two-part series called, “The Weight of the Nation.” This report accurately described the full effect of obesity. A book, released with the same title, reported that collectively, we carry more than four and a half billion pounds of body fat.2 Each pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories our bodies store on our stomachs, backs, legs and anywhere else our genes dictate.

This extra body fat can stress our bodies and we suffer from heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. And if we don’t continue to make positive changes, the rate for these chronic diseases will increase. The Center for Disease Control reported that if we do not make changes, there could be as many as 7.9 million new cases of diabetes each year compared with the current rate of 1.9 million cases per year. The rate of heart disease could grow from the current 1.3 million new cases a year to 6.8 million cases.

These diseases impact the overall health care cost in the U.S. Currently, we spend about $147 billion on health expenditures. If we added $66 billion because of obesity-related costs, the burden of mostly preventable illnesses will cost $210 billion.3

With the new reports of weight loss coming to our attention, perhaps these numbers will never become a reality. Perhaps if we all made up our minds to support healthy lunches at school, grow gardens and introduce various fruits and vegetables to our youth, then we can look forward to a healthy generation to take their place as leaders.

Pamela A. Williams writes from southern California.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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