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What are Hidden Costs of Obesity?

By Nicole Long
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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The hidden costs of obesity involve mental, physical, social and societal consequences. Higher medical costs, missed opportunities, and various other economic problems represent the hallmark costs of obesity on the societal level. Health complications including heart disease, cancer, sleep apnea and arthritis are the hidden costs on the individual level.

Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) over 30. The calculation is a numerical depiction of the amount of body fat a person carries, as represented by their height and weight. Calculations of BMI over 30 leave individuals at risk for myriad health and social consequences.

Increased medical costs represent just one result of the ever-increasing occurrence of obesity in the world. It simply costs more to care for those that are obese. Frequent trips to the doctor for illness, disease complications, and other physical and mental ailments such as depression contribute to the strain on the healthcare system.

In addition to the increased medical costs of obesity, obese individuals may run into a reduced availability of opportunities, whether directly or indirectly imposed by society. There is a great probability that an obese person may be overlooked for a new job or promotion. Other missed opportunities include the reduced possibility of obtaining a college degree, being overlooked in social situations, and being ignored in public due to negative social stigmas.

The economic costs of obesity come at the expense of employers and taxpayers. Employers lose money each time a person misses work, resulting in a decrease in productivity. Missed work days occur more frequently among obese individuals. Unfortunately, with the number of obese individuals steadily increasing, companies are ill-equipped to offer any incentives with real staying power. In the long-run, taxpayers get left footing the healthcare bill when obese individuals become eligible for Medicare in the United States, or require frequent visits to the doctor or prolonged hospital stays under other government run healthcare programs.

On an individual level, obesity can lead to serious heart complications and conditions. Unhealthy eating habits, such as consuming an excessive amount of unhealthy fats, result in an increased possibility of arterial blockages and heart disease in obese individuals. Increased risks of high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels contribute to the possibility of heart damage.

Cancer and reproductive issues represent some of the additional costs of obesity. Specifically, cancers related to the breast, colon and endometrium are prevalent in obese individuals. The risk of developing liver and gallbladder disease also increase in those designated as obese. Other possible problems related to obesity include infertility, abnormal menses and type II diabetes.

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