Arnold Kling

Obesity, Disease of Affluence

Arnold Kling, Great Questions of Economics
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Rand's Roland Sturm compiled some statistics on obesity in the United States

The study compares the effects of obesity, smoking and problem drinking on health care utilization and health status, using national survey data. Obesity is associated with a 36% increase in inpatient and outpatient expenditures and a 77% increase in medication costs than people falling within a normal weight range, while current smokers see increases of only 21% for services and 28% for medications over those of non-smokers, and problem drinkers see an even lesser effect for both. Meanwhile, aging from 30 to 50 is associated with a 20% hike in service costs, but a 105% increase in medication costs.

Much of the increase in obesity is recent--the story reports that the incidence of obesity is up 60 percent in the last decade. Last night, I attended a lecture by an NIH researcher, who pointed out that this could lead to an epidemic of diabetes.

Because the increase in obesity is so recent, most of the health care impact has yet to be felt. However, I would think that the combination of an aging Baby Boomer population and the surge in obesity implies dramatic increases in health care expenditures. Economic growth outside of the healthcare industry may be limited as a result.

Discussion Question. Obesity, like single motherhood and cigarette smoking, might be a divisive issue politically. Do you think that conservatives will hold people responsible for their own obesity, while liberals will consider them victims of Big Food?

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