Living large: Obesity causing rising healthcare costs and lower productivity for U.S. economy

By Ben Alonzo

There’s a health crisis going on in America and it involves the fact that over 69% of adults are overweight or obese, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data1. Being overweight is scientifically unhealthy, it drives up health insurance premiums, and negatively impacts the economy. Recent health science data shows that more Americans are overweight than ever before. The number of obese American adults has now exceeded 36%, which is likely underestimated. Something needs to be done about such a high number because it represents a threat to national health status, national security, and the economy. Obesity is preventable and the first step to combating it is a good health science education. Those already obese have the added challenge of avoiding pseudoscience advice, weight loss gimmicks, and unhealthy food and drink marketing, which means a basic health science education is even more important.

Americans Living Larger

Obesity is typically a result of overconsumption and lack of physical fitness activity. The accepted medical definition of obese involves a simple calculation of the ratio of a person’s height and weight1. The formula is BMI = kg/m2. This calculation is a rough estimate of how much fat exists on someone’s body. BMI is not a direct measurement of fat, it’s an estimate. Optimal BMI is between 18-25. The range for overweight BMI is 25-29.9. Anyone with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. The use of BMI has decades of research where higher BMI (>25) has been correlated to diabetes, cancer, and death. There are numerous other diseases that have also been correlated to obesity.

The cycle of obesity starts with energy being stored as fat because it is not being used. If a person consumes too much energy, there is an excess. The body does a good job regulating chemicals and energy, when it is properly functioning. However, regular excess of energy intake, with little to no exercise, results in weight gain. Weight gain eventually becomes more visual as the fat builds up on top of bones and muscle. This causes increased stress on the body from the increased weight and compression that occurs.

Over 36% of U.S. adults and 17% of youth are estimated to be obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 20141. People between the ages of 40-59 were more likely to be obese, but younger cases are rising. About 20% of youth between the ages of 12-19 are obese.

Our energy storage system works the way it does because our diet was much different, since humans first appeared millions of years ago. Storing energy was a good way to make sure we could function, without the drive thru and instant food resources we have today. Today, you don’t need to move at all to eat. There’s no need to run after a deer to get meat. There’s no need to learn how to hunt. These activities require physical movement, but we don’t have to move a muscle to get our food these days. We have become much less muscular and active than ever before.

The top breakdown of obesity includes 48% non-Hispanic black, 42% Hispanic, and 34% non-Hispanic white. Although there are differences between genders and race, the gap is not incredibly large. There is a health crisis issue for people of all ages and races, when it comes to maintaining a healthy body.

It should be noted that health survey data and hospital data, in terms of weight and body mass, may be underestimated. Many people may not have an adequate health record. Obesity may actually be worse than the data indicates.

In just the past 10 years, you may also be able to see more obese people by simply walking around in public or in large retail stores. You will see more overweight people on scooters, buying unhealthy food and drink products, and at fast food places.

Obesity Risks

There is no logical, reasonable, or scientific reason to promote unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as overeating, binge drinking, and remaining overweight. The risks of obesity include: heart disease, diabetes, vision problems, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, liver disease, stroke, and cancer. Overweight people may have difficulties moving, functioning at work, and require special services that lessen their independence. Beyond physiology, overweight individuals typically experience depression, insecurity, bullying, and other social issues. Being “fat” can have serious consequences for both the overweight person and others.

Being obese also means less productivity due to time loss, healthcare costs, disease, and difficulty with mobility.
When large percentages of a nation’s public are obese and function less, it means less productivity is occurring, which stresses the national economy. Other economic burdens include the cost of short and long-term healthcare for obese individuals.

Less healthy adults means less able-bodied citizens to serve in the military and other critical roles, which is a threat to national security. Rising numbers of obesity should alarm every private and government entity.

More recent research estimates that about 21 percent of medical spending ($190 billion), as of 2005, is either directly or indirectly related to obesity. Future estimates indicate that the medical costs alone could rise to $48-66 billion annually in the U.S.1

Obesity Solutions

The primary solution to obesity is prevention through education, good lifestyle choices, and physical fitness activities. Socioeconomic reasons can make it easier to eat unhealthy food and harder to access healthy, nutritious food, education, and physical fitness resources. There have even been suggestions to reward people that live healthy, exercise, and lose weight with money. Financial rewards for maintaining high productivity and a healthy status can be viewed as a wise investment. Other suggestions include higher taxes for unhealthy food and drink products, tax breaks for healthy individuals, and businesses rewarding employees for exercising and losing weight. Any solution must be long-term in effect, in order to be considered successful. A good basic health science education goes a long ways in combating obesity.

Treating obesity should involve a healthy diet and fitness routine. If someone isn’t sure of the diet they should be on or aren’t confident about appropriate exercise, consult a health scientist, your primary care doctor, or registered dietician. The longer you are obese, the harder it will be to return to a normal weight. If you are significantly obese, your physician may suggest medications to assist. Be very careful with side effects, avoiding long-term medication, and focus on the things you can do yourself to stay healthy. Eating right and regular physical fitness are a must.


Unfortunately, there’s a lot of unhealthy food and drink marketing going on out there. In addition, there are thousands of misleading websites, weight loss programs, and celebrity diets that will lead desperate people to failure. Scientifically, your metabolic rate, calorie intake, and physical fitness level are the primary keys to real weight loss. Beware of any vague or “too-good-to-be-true” claims of marketing campaigns. There have even been chiropractors charging thousands of dollars just to have patients on a low calorie diet. People are desperate and distractions can seem appealing. Stay focused on sound health science advice for your health issues.

There are many TV shows that have turned overeating into entertainment. You can watch people literally eat themselves to death. Overeating for any long-term period will eventually kill you.

The 2015 conference of Health Communication, Marketing, and Media discussed just how much of a distraction unhealthy marketing has become. It’s estimated that $10-15 billion (annually) go into marketing unhealthy food and drink products to Americans1. In all honesty, the marketing has been working for large companies, which often targets kids. Kids get addicted at an early age and just carry the habit later in life. Unhealthy food marketing is a huge, effective distraction to health education and combating obesity.


Prevention of obesity is key. Once a person experiences prolonged obesity, the path to normal becomes very difficult. Losing weight can happen, but it’s often a struggle that is difficult to endure, especially when you’re surrounded by unhealthy food, drinks, advertising, and cultural norms. Take weight loss a little bit at a time, working at a steady pace. Record your results so you can see your progress by daily measurements. It takes time, but if you stick with it, you will lose weight. There are thousands of legitimate health scientists and physicians that can give you good health advice. Make every effort to regularly exercise and watch what you eat. In fact, a better diet may also reduce (or eliminate) some of the digestive problems you may be experiencing. Being healthy makes you feel better, gives you more energy, and makes you more attractive (socially). The road to healthy is tough, but it is well worth it. Always keep your goals in mind, stay focused on the right path, advice, and personal choices you make.

Author: Ben Alonzo is a unique science and tech expert, professor, entrepreneur, and journalist. He founded and is the CEO of the tech firm Storm Sector, LLC. Ben holds an MS in Information Technology, MS in Geoscience, MS in Health & Nutrition, and a BS in Geoscience. He is a highly rated professor that teaches a wide variety of college courses within earth, environmental, computer sciences and public health. His diverse background spans enterprise information technology, healthcare, weather forecasting, consumer electronics, digital media, web development, and business leadership. He holds numerous professional licenses and certifications, ranging from information technology to healthcare and emergency medical technician. Ben is a tech entrepreneur and is business partners with multiple restaurants. He is also a private pilot, fitness pro, musician, and loves filmmaking. Alonzo has written about science and tech for over 10 years. You can see some of his past articles on the Houston Chronicle, Heart, and other networks. In his free time, he likes scuba diving, storm chasing, and the gym.
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