Caring for the nation's 12.7 million obese children could cost a total of $1.1 trillion if they grow up to be obese adults, according to a study by the Brookings Center for Social Dynamics and Policy.
“It's a good reason to care about this,” said Brookings research associate Matthew Kasman, who presented the findings.
The Brookings Institution researchers calculated that between ages 25 to 85, an obese adult will rack up costs averaging $92,235. This includes obesity-related healthcare costs, lost work productivity, costs of Social Security Disability Insurance, disability claims and forgone taxes because of lower wages earned.
Higher mortality rates among the obese did not offset these costs, Kasman said.
He noted that adult obesity has grown from about 10% in the 1990s to 35% at the beginning of this decade and that the U.S. now has 78.6 million obese adults—with obesity described as a body mass index of 30 or higher. These numbers mirror the nation's youth, with their rate going from 5% to 17% during the same period.
“Even if it weren't morally incumbent on us to care about the life and health of our fellow citizens,” Kasman concluded, “our research indicates that we have a clear economic incentive to do so.”
When asked who was responsible for the increase in obesity, Kasman replied that “assigning blame” was difficult and not within the scope of the research. The researchers sought to highlight “how much this matters” and to find ways of bringing these costs down—particularly by preventing and treating obesity among children.
William Dietz, with George Washington University's Milken Institute of Public Health, said during a panel discussion that obesity-related costs include bias and stigmatization. He cited the example of how obese students have a lower college acceptance rate, which can lead to lower lifetime earnings.
Speakers noted how many urban areas offer few choices for nutritious food. Linda Katehi, chancellor of the University of California, Davis, told of how there is an obesity epidemic among California's agriculture workforce. She said that even for people who grow the nation's fruits and vegetables, most of the food they have access to is highly processed with a high-fat and high-sugar content.