Is Exercise One of Your Resolutions for the New Year?

As a good person and good citizen, it should be.

Projecting from current trends, by 2030, 49% of Americans will be obese, and 24% will be severely obese. That’s going to affect you, even if you’re not obese!

In the 1500s in Western Europe, obesity was a sign of wealth, for only the wealthy could afford the lifestyle required to achieve obesity. The same is true in modern China, where obesity is a sign of industrialization and malnutrition is the major challenge for rural areas.

However, the reverse is true in the US. Obesity is a sign of poverty here, with lower income households being more dependent on highly process food. The areas in the US with the highest poverty are those with median incomes of less than $20,000 per year.

Obesity is a problem for several reasons:

  • It’s linked intimately with diabetes and heart disease, which can require expensive treatments.
  • The triad of obesity, diabetes and heart disease is a common cause of disability.
  • Obesity is linked to a variety of other diseases including gout.
  • Obese people are more likely to be unemployed.(2) There is discrimination in hiring, but also absenteeism due to health issues.

Obesity is an imposition on those who aren’t obese:

  • Obesity is estimated to reduce the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 14% today, the highest among any industrialized country, and that number will increase.(3)
  • Disability claims raise the cost of private disability insurance and tap into the Social Security trust fund. Earlier death among the obese will partly offset those costs.
  • Medical claims related to obesity raise the cost of health insurance, both private that funded by the government.
  • Obese workers increase the burden on co-workers due to health issues.

In a nutshell, obesity affects your pay, your life and health insurance costs, and your taxes, none in a good way.

Heart disease ranks as the leading cause of death in the US. As obesity increases, people simply will die at younger ages. (And yes, there will be a few exceptions. Statistical variation is normal, but doesn’t invalidate the statement.)

Finally, the most obese states in the US are among the ones least able to afford the extra expense. These include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma

As the poorest state in the US, Mississippi is already heavily depending on Federal funding. As the obesity crisis grows, the demand for Federal dollars will increase. In practice, we are talking about transferring tax dollars from taxpayers in much wealthier states such as New York and California to prop up Mississippi. At what point will taxpayers decide that’s not worth doing?




  1. This is an important and sobering revelation for us all. Though the warning is not a new one. The physical and emotional consequence of obesity is complex but the medical effects that too often result jeopardize future generations and threaten a further downturn in life expectancy. Yes, the cost of treating the triad of conditions brought about by obesity is staggering. But the human cost of chronic diabetes, heart disease, and, in childhood, altered developmental trajectory – not to mention the social debility which can be merciless is often overlooked. It must be addressed in our curriculum and at our dinner tables. All families should have access to fresh foods including the basic staples. Not always possible.

    As adults, we model healthy choices for children and our peers. My wife is always preaching “portion control”. Otherwise the need for hemodialysis, physical rehabilitation, repeated vascular surgeries and amputation of diseased extremities, and the enormous pain these afflictions evoke will go on.


    • Obviously I agree with you. China has a nationwide fitness push because they estimated the budget impact of obesity and decided they couldn’t afford it.
      I’ve become a huge fan of the Intermittent Fasting 8-16 approach, which now has upwards of 18 clinical trials supporting it. It doesn’t cost anything and is simple enough that anyone can do it. It drops weight, blood sugar and cholesterol and boosts the immune system by allowing gut bacteria to reset. One trial demonstrated that anyone with Type 2 diabetes for less than 6 years could have the disease enter remission with this diet, allowing even insulin users to stop their medication. Simple and efficient, but I’ve had clients tell me they couldn’t do it. Sigh.


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