Feature

The price of obesity

What a new study says about the cost of fighting illnesses linked to being overweight

"Obesity's not just dangerous," said the Associated Press in MSNBC, "it's expensive." New research published in the journal Health Affairs shows that medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than for someone who's normal weight. And "don't blame things like stomach-stapling for all those extra bills"—they go toward treating diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments far more common for overweight people.

"The detailed study piles up one troubling statistic after another," said Catherine Arnst in BusinessWeek. Medical spending on conditions linked to the obesity epidemic has nearly doubled in the last decade to $147 billion. That would put the bill at 9.1 percent of total medical spending, up from 6.5 percent in 1998. At a conference sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control to publicize the findings, former president Bill Clinton said, "We must all do more to develop innovative solutions to combat the obesity epidemic."

"Fat warriors" are pushing the fiscal argument to get people to slim down, said Jacob Sullum in Reason. But the sad truth, according to another study, is that eliminating obesity would actually increase spending on health care over a lifetime, "because obese people tend to die sooner than thin people do." So all this talk about the cost of obesity is just meant to distract attention from "the paternalism of the 'public health' agenda," which aims to discourage "sloth and gluttony" through any means possible.

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