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Cost of Obesity

7:46 PM, May 3, 2010   |    comments
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Over the past decade in Tennessee, cases of obesity have increased from 19% to 31%; a third of us are overweight.

And with obesity comes a cost.

"Once I got to college, the freshman 15 turned into the freshman 115 and beyond that. Post-college graduation, it just came on until I hit my high point of 318 pounds," Leslie Daugherty said.

Over the years, Daugherty tried diets and joined gyms and spent a lot of money on medicine.

"I was on diabetic medication, I was on blood pressure medication, cholesterol medication. I was going to every doctor for sleep apnea," she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows obese people spend $1,429 a year more for medical care than normal weight people.

That works out to 42% more.

And that doesn't count the money spent on diet programs, lost work opportunities, and other expenses.

"Orthotics for my shoes because my feet hurt so bad. The over-the-counter pain killers because your knees and your joints and just overall well-being was affected," Daugherty said.

Here in Tennessee, we all pay for obesity.

"We spend $1.8 billion a year in our annual state revenue taking care of chronic diseases such as obesity. And that comes down to around $1,500 per person, whether you're obese or not. So if you look at the societal cost, it's tremendous," Dr. Gregory Mancini said.

Dr. Mancini is Medical Director at Tennessee Weight Loss and Surgery Center at UT Medical Center.

"Weight isn't just about weight and appearance. It's really about overall health," Mancini said. "I think people understand that carrying extra weight is tough on our joints, but we are seeing tremendous growth of diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea associated with obesity. And not just associated, but actually caused by obesity."

The health cost of obesity in the United States is $147-billion a year -- and growing.

Cutting costs requires dropping pounds. It's something individuals can do, sometimes with medical or surgical assistance like that offered at UT.

But Dr. Mancini said government and private businesses can offer incentives, too, knowing that reducing obesity can increase the bottom line for companies.

"The benefit to reducing obesity among employees is lowering absenteeism, improving productivity, and lowering the health care cost of a business," he said.

Health insurance covered surgery for Leslie Daugherty at New Life Center for Bariatric Surgery in Knoxville.

"Choosing weight loss surgery was the single best decision I've ever made for my health and my family's life. It saved my life," Daugherty said.

Twenty months later, her life is different.

She's changed her eating habits, works out every day, and has lost 185 pounds.

"I feel like I've been reborn again. I have a new chance at life," she said.

She even ran the Knoxville Covenant Health Half Marathon this March.

And when she's not running she can wear high heels -- one of her new post-obesity expenses.

"I do have to have a lifelong supplement program to make sure my nutritional needs are met. And that is a monthly expense on my part," she said. "But overall I'm not spending that money on junk food at the grocery store, I'm not spending money on dining out or fast food. It's all about the choices we make, and I feel like now the money I spend is an investment in me."

It's an investment in her health.

"One day, I'm not saying when, I'm not going to put a date on it, but I will do a full marathon. I will," she said.

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