Report: Cost of Obesity Rising

East Texas residents shop in a grocery store.
East Texas residents shop in a grocery store.

Obesity cost Texas businesses $9.5 billion in 2009, according to a report, "Gaining Costs, Losing Time," released today by State Comptroller Susan Combs. It could cost them $32.5 billion annually by 2030.

“Texas businesses are paying an enormous price for obesity, diverting dollars that could be invested in business expansion, job creation and building a strong Texas economy,” Combs said. 

The report calculates the cost of obesity in terms of health insurance payments by employers, the indirect costs of poor productivity and absence from the workplace due to obesity, and directly attributable disability health care costs. 

The lifetime cost for the 29.5 percent of adult Texans who are obese averages out to $532,000, which includes the money spent on medical care for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis; the almost $300,000 less an obese person makes in lifetime wages; and the extra $6,600 the individual spends on diets and gym memberships.

The old, poor and less educated are more likely to be obese, according to the report. And Hispanics, who have the highest obesity rate and are the fastest-growing population, “are expected to drive obesity rates higher in future years,” the report says.

Texas children are worse off than children nationally — 20.4 percent are obese here, compared to 16.4 percent nationally. And 80 percent of obese children stay obese through adulthood, putting them at greater risk of developing diabetes, depression, low self-esteem and chronic diseases.

“Among our high school seniors, only 8 percent of girls and 9 percent of boys are considered physically fit,” Combs said. In the report, Combs recommends that the Legislature increase physical education requirements and use fitness data combined with TAKS testing and other measures of academic achievement to identify school districts in need of grants for better physical education. 

The report also looks at what employers are doing to cut down on these costs. It provides descriptions of 12 “wellness programs” implemented by Texas businesses that aim to reduce costs to employers by lowering health insurance premiums, reducing the number of worker compensation claims and saving indirect costs from poor productivity and absenteeism.

But businesses aren’t the only ones affected by the two-thirds of Texans who are overweight or obese. According to the report, the health care industry needs more personnel to move patients and perform surgeries, must invest in larger accommodations — from bed gowns to diagnostic equipment such as MRI machines to doorways — and often has to perform multiple surgeries, like wound closures, for obese patients that require only a single surgery for non-obese patients. Passenger weight also increases fuel costs. The U.S. airline industry spends an additional $275 million on fuel annually to account for the increase in the average weight of passengers.

“The obesity epidemic presents our most pressing public health challenge, threatening our overall well-being and economic vitality,” Combs said. “We must invest in the well-being of our children and foster healthier habits in our schools, communities and workplaces to create a healthier future for all Texans.”

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