How Obesity is Costing the U.S. Billions of Dollars

Between 1995 and 2010, obesity rates in the U.S. climbed at least 90%, directly impacting health spending, according to a report released today by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nine of the ten states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South, led by Mississippi at 34%, followed next by Alabama and West Virginia. Those states also have the highest rates of diabetes and highest average blood pressure in the country. Michigan was the only top 10 State not in the South, with 31% of residents considered obese. In turn, Colorado was the slimmest state with a 20% obesity rate.

Twenty-percent of Medicare and Medicaid spending goes toward the treatment of illnesses related to obesity and smoking. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, “Obesity is defined as having a body mass index above 30. A six-foot-tall adult man weighing 221 pounds (100 kilograms) or more is considered obese, as is an adult woman standing five feet, six inches tall weighing 186 pounds or more.”

According to Steven Gortmaker, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, “It’s gotten easier and easier to consume lots of foods at more times of the day.” Lawmakers have considered taxing unhealthy foods — McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) Big Macs — and sugar-sweetened beverages like those made by Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) and PepsiCo Inc. (NYSE:PEP) in order to discourage people from consuming them in such large quantities, but such proposals were rejected during debate on the 2010 healthcare (NYSE:XLV) law.

How are Healthier Food Companies Doing?  Check Out “Chipotle Hits $10 Billion Market Cap for First Time in Company History”.

Preventing obesity is not just a matter of public health, but fiscal health. Even in Colorado where obesity is lowest, obesity-related health conditions cost the state over $1 billion last year. So to combat obesity on a state level, Colorado public schools are requiring half an hour of exercise each day and are trying to serve healthier foods, since children consume half their daily calories at school. And around the country, companies like Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) are trying to sell healthier food at more affordable prices. Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign emphasizes exercise and healthy eating for children, while trying to reduce food advertising targeting children.  And the 2010 healthcare initiative requires that chain restaurants with more than 20 locations in the U.S. list calorie counts for all menu items, an idea borrowed from New York City, which requires all restaurants to include calorie counts on their menus.

The authors of today’s obesity report want lawmakers to restore the $833 million in nutrition assistance programs cut from the 2011 federal budget, as well as protect the Centers for Disease Control from any budget cuts.