Monday, July 27, 2009

$1400 per year in medical expenses for the obese

New research shows medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than for someone who's normal weight.

The higher expense reflects the costs of treating diabetes, heart disease and other ailments far more common for the overweight.

"Unless you address obesity, you're never going to address rising health-care costs."
More in the Wall Street Journal.

It just so happens that last night I read the chapter on "Health and the Bicycle" in Jeff Mape's Pedaling Revolution. Mapes reminds us that in 1991, only four states had obesity rates higher than 15%, while in 2007 only one state -- Colorado -- had a rate under 20%. In 1996, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report lamenting that our modern, car dependent society hinders any attempts to increase physical activity. Psychologists studying the issue learned that the only way to increase physical activity is to make it a part of an active lifestyle.

That's when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which is dedicated to improving public health, got into promoting bicycling in a big way, spending $80 million in the 90s on advocacy, research and grants to promote active transportation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for example, provided the early funding for the League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Community Program.

Mapes mentions Prescription for a Healthy Nation by physicians Tom Farley and Deborah Cohen, who argue that American's fixation with the cost of our health care system obscures the real problem: that 'health care' rarely does little to provide real health. 40% of early deaths can be attributed to controllable factors such as smoking, alcohol use, diet, physical activity and vehicle crashes.

Cohen and Farley argue that we should stigmatize sedentary behavior in the same way anti-smoking campaigners stigmatized smoking in the 80s. "We have to put walking and cycling back into our daily lives and temper our addiction to cars," they write. They argue for development that encourages active transportation over car use.

Props to my anonymous tipster.


  1. Stigmatized smokers consider their outsider status a point of pride.

    $1400 a year? What do we cyclists spend on tires, chamois cream and sports drinks?

    I know, I know. We're supposed to use statistics to our own advantage. I've just been out there for three decades getting crap thrown at me and suffering various forms of discrimination including in employment because of my decision in college to take up and insist on a healthy lifestyle.

  2. Obesity is such an easy thing to remedy. Education on living a healthy lifestyle will help many people but is not implemented.

  3. Whats the old idiom Kill two birds with one stone" I guess in the case of the bicycle it is "Kill Many birds with one stone" cycling can take care of obesity, gas prices, pollution, etc. etc.

  4. Transportation cycling can be the foundation of a healthy lifestyle, but then you have places like Colorado trying to ban road cycling. You have all the other issues that discourage people from using bicycles as part of daily practical living.

    Having friends and family members who battle weight I can tell you that it is not easy to overcome for some.

    Humans are not only capable of phenomenal levels of activity, our built-in fuel gauge is designed to support them. From a meat-powered standpoint, pedal drive represents a major gain in cruising range compared to walking. This can be applied to 2-, 3-, and 4-wheeled vehicles.

    Muscular output is only maintained through periods of activity and rest. External power sources can go longer without downtime, hence their obvious appeal to tired toilers.

    Our technology allows us to find a balance between our exertion and the apparently tireless efforts of our machinery. We haven't come close to the right mix yet.

  5. @cafiend: There's a bit of that 'outsider' rebel with cyclists too, especially the 'urban' fixie riders these days.

    @BMI: it's easy to say that obesity is easily remedied, but the reality is 37% obesity in the United States right now and probably thousands of weight loss plans that don't work. It's kind of the whole point of Cohen & Farley's book, that our culture leads naturally to obesity, while a healthy lifestyle if discouraged.

    @Russ: Right on.

  6.'s really about using information to completely change a cultures mindset & lifestyle for a better future..."status quo" can kinda suck...

    ...& i agree w/ you russ but the 'problems' are so integrated in every aspect of our day to day life that it goes way beyond "obesity"...we've been primed for years to over-indulge, be wasteful, unconcerned about our personal & our world's future...

    ...the various factors that work to divide us from an integrated symbiotic lifestyle need be addressed...

    ...& while things seem to be slowly changing simply because we're finally becoming aware of the expenditure of our natural resources, the evolution needs to get exponential before we're left w/ nothing decent to work w/... regards the topic, i'm sure only a tiny percentage of presently obese folks will ever make significant changes in their lifestyle & yes, it does relate back to using what you have wisely...

    ...but factor in the psychological aspect of self esteem or lack thereof, familial acceptance amongst kin & peers & weigh it (whoops) against the medical initiative to change in favor of a healthy lifestyle & you've got a tough row to hoe...

    ...well, anyway, i'm not tryin' to write an analytical theorem here but it seems to me that all the factors need to be working together for it not to eventually all end in chaos, so i'm just sayin'...