Losing weight isn’t just good for your waistline.
It can also be good for your pocketbook.
A new study shows there are financial benefits to losing weight in addition to the well-documented benefits to your overall health.
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a report last month that says adults can save anywhere from $18,000 to $31,000 within their lifetime if they lose weight.
The findings were published in the journal Obesity.
Exact figures depend on age and how many pounds a person loses.
For example, a 20-year-old adult or a 40-year-old adult who goes from obese to overweight would see a lifetime cost savings of approximately $18,000.
If that same 20-year-old drops to a healthy weight, they’d see their savings increase by nearly $10,000.
In contrast, a 40-year-old who drops to a healthy weight would see their lifetime savings jump to $31,000. The maximum savings peak is around $36,000 at the age of 50.
“It’s an important study because it really does calculate the cost of obesity,” Ted Kyle, RPh, founder of ConscienHealth and a board member of the Obesity Action Coalition, told Healthline.
The cost of obesity
The study’s authors used data from the Coronary Artery Disease Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study and the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study.
In addition, 15 other health statuses were examined.
The researchers’ computational model simulated the weight and health of an adult as they age year by year.
They looked at adults starting at age 20 and ending at age 80, by increments of 10.
The researchers tracked individual medical costs and productivity losses within the model. Estimated direct medical costs to the insurer and sick time were also included.
Dr. Scott Isaacs, an endocrinologist and member of the American Board of Obesity Medicine, said it’s important to remember that the cost of obesity goes beyond just health issues.
It includes everything from absenteeism at work and the burden that puts on co-workers to something else called presenteeism.
“It’s when people go to work but aren’t as productive as they should be,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the medical care costs of obesity in the United States is $147 billion.
Nationwide, productivity costs range between $3.3 billion and $6.4 billion.
Obesity on the rise
The argument for people to maintain a healthy weight is strong. Yet obesity remains an issue in the United States.
Roughly 36 percent of people in the United States are considered obese, according to the CDC.
And that number continues to rise.
So, if most of us understand how to lose weight and understand the health and financial benefits, what gives?
“Awareness isn’t the problem,” Kyle said, “It’s equipping people to do something about it.”
He said right now, the conventional weight loss narrative puts the onus on the individual. If a person wants to lose weight, all they need to do is eat less and exercise more.
A plethora of diet and exercise regimens are available in books, magazines, websites, and blogs.
But people with obesity may need more specialized care.
More than a new way of eating and exercising, according to Isaacs.
Even a general practitioner may not be the right person to talk to.
“Obesity is a disease,” he said. “It’s not a matter of willpower.”
A combination of treatments
Isaacs said doctors that focus on obesity can help determine if medication, surgery, or both are needed.
As with other diseases, such as cancer or heart disease, successful treatment of obesity usually calls for the right balance of therapies to cure a person.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Isaacs. “Devices such as ballooning or stapling of the stomach. It’s not usually one medication that treats it.”
But because society views obesity as a cosmetic problem and not a chronic health disease, many people don’t pursue medical treatment, Isaacs noted.
Some companies don’t offer such treatment in their insurance plans.
“Just 1 percent of patients eligible for bariatric surgery utilize it,” Isaacs said.
In addition, Medicaid recipients don’t have access to any obesity treatments at all.
That may change, Isaacs noted, if Congress passes the Treat and Reduce Obesity Bill Act of 2017. The bill would fund medication designed for weight loss management within the Medicare Part D plan.
Both Kyle and Isaacs said that until society shifts its views on obesity, people who have the disease will remain on their own.
“Obesity is really the last form of discrimination,” Isaacs said.
In the meantime, people will continue to gain weight. The costs associated with obesity in the form of productivity loss or ongoing health problems will continue to rise.
“It’s kind of insane. We have a growing burden of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and many of those flow from obesity,” Kyle said. “We let the disease of obesity progress and then we treat the complications.”