The two most common excuses people give for not exercising and taking care of their general health are lack of time, and finances. In previous articles, I have addressed the time issue, but I would like to add the following: If you don’t make the time to exercise, you won’t have much time to do anything. Eventually, as we age and don’t make the time to compensate for its effects, we end up with one or more debilitating condition. But what is just as shocking is how much it actually costs us to be out of shape and in an unhealthy state. Many people say they just can’t afford to go to an exercise specialist, or they can’t afford the health club and gym fees. But let’s look at the alternative.
We all have heard about the cost of obesity in and of itself. Medical bills are quite a bit higher. But researchers at George Washington University took the expense equation a step higher. They added in things such as employee sick days, lost productivity, even the need for extra gasoline – and calculated that the annual cost of being obese is $4,879 for a woman and $2,646 for a man. Now, if you are only overweight, the cost is less — $524 for women and $432 for men. And why the difference between the genders? Studies suggest larger women earn less than skinnier women, while wages don’t differ when men pack on the pounds – a big surprise, said study co-author and health policy professor Christine Ferguson.
Obesity is linked to earlier death. While that’s not something people usually consider a pocketbook issue, the report did factor in the economic value of lost life. That brought women’s annual obesity costs up to $8,365, and men’s to $6,518.
In addition to the direct costs of being overweight and obese, let’s look at a person with heart disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death, and multiple medications are often needed to control symptoms and risk factors. In a recent study following 104 people with ischemic heart disease, average monthly costs were $104.77 for cardiac medications and $115.54 for non-cardiac medications, for a total of $220.31. In addition, the cost of heart disease and stroke in the United States was $368 billion in 2004, including health care expenditures and lost productivity from disability and death.
Employment and health
If you are an employer, you may want to insist that your employees exercise. In 1995, Nicolaas Pronk, director of HealthPartners’ Center for Health Promotion, surveyed nearly 6,000 HealthPartners members over age 40 about their lifestyle and health status, and then looked at 18 months’ worth of their medical claims. In a report based on that data, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), he compared people with poor habits to those with healthy ones and found that:
- Those who engaged in some kind of physical activity at least once a week cost the company 4.7% less than those who are sedentary.
- Smokers cost the company 18% more than nonsmokers.
- Each unit increase in body mass index (a measure of body fat) raised costs by 1.9%.
Those who suffered from the chronic illnesses that are often the result of unhealthy lifestyles – particularly diabetes and heart disease – were the costliest of all. Diabetics cost 137% more than non-diabetics, and those with heart disease cost 150% more than those without, the study found.
Obesity and sedentary lifestyle are escalating global epidemics that warrant increased attention by physicians and other health care professionals. These intricately-linked conditions are responsible for an enormous burden of chronic disease, impaired physical function and quality of life, at least 300,000 premature deaths, and at least $90 billion in direct health care costs annually in the United States alone. Couple all this with the rising premiums for solid, comprehensive health insurance and it becomes obvious that it pays to work out and be healthy.
Now, back to obesity. At a time when we are all trying to figure out how to lower our transportation costs, higher now because of the high cost of oil and gasoline, a different study calculated that nearly 1 billion additional gallons of gasoline are used every year because of increases in car passengers’ weight since 1960. You can do the math of 1,000,000,000 times the price per gallon or liter of gas.