By Sam Davis, BHS, CPT, FNS
This topic is one I love to discuss, but it always reminds me how much our world still needs to be educated on the repercussions of not taking care of ourselves. Most people don’t understand the severity of being obese and how it can lead to premature death. On average, an obese individual will have a much shorter life than a person with a lower BMI (body mass index). Combating obesity can be a struggle, and finding room in your budget for health tools like fitness classes or organic produce can be a barrier. But there are things that can be done now to invest in health and wellness that will save you money and stress later in life.
Bodyweight and finances are indeed correlated, which absolutely should be acknowledged. An analysis done by George Washington University quantified all costs associated with being obese based on direct costs, indirect costs, and loss of productivity. The study showed that obese females have an economic burden nine times higher than women with a lower BMI. Obese males have an economic burden that is six times higher than their leaner counterparts.
Not surprisingly, women are much more affected by obesity when it comes to job-related costs. Obese women can lose a certain percentage of income, they tend to miss work more, and use disability benefits at a higher rate. Additionally, an obese woman may make 6% less per year than a coworker with a lower BMI.
Because the human body doesn’t function at peak ability when it is overweight or obese, obese individuals may pay around $350 per year out of pocket due to decreased productivity. This is quantified by looking at the amount of self-reported limitations employees willingly share with their employers.
When it comes to retirement, the same study showed that obese and morbidly obese employees actually retire much earlier than their coworkers.
Currently, over 60% of the world’s population is an unhealthy weight, with more than half of that 60% being obese. If the population continues to grow in size, by 2030, half the population will be obese.
The rise in obesity is really due to the fact that people are consuming much more and moving less. It’s more so the nutritional aspect of things—there is more evidence than ever that people are consuming more food than 30 years ago. The real question is: Why is this?
It actually can be linked back to agricultural policy changes in the 1970s, which required farmers to grow more food, faster. It put a huge pressure on food companies to sell more products in a saturated market to increase their profits quarterly. So companies increased food portions, promoted a higher consumption of food outside the home, and created an environment where it was acceptable to eat food anywhere at any time. Snacking became normal, which is why you can find bars, crackers, chips, candy bars, and soda everywhere.
Many studies show this change in our environment and habits has exponentially encouraged overeating and consumption of calories in mass amounts.
The risk of dying from major health issues that develop from being obese increases as BMI also increases. The average life expectancy of someone who has a BMI of higher than 30.0 can be reduced by 20 years.
Obese or overweight individuals are at a higher risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood cholesterol, stroke, and many types of cancer.
Each of these diagnoses has its own costs, but I want to focus specifically on type II diabetes. Every year, 1.5 million new cases of diabetes are diagnosed. Individuals with diabetes spend, on average, close to $8,000 on medical costs annually. In comparison, a more expensive monthly grocery bill that focuses on whole foods is more affordable.
Diabetes and other health conditions related to obesity can carry a hefty price tag, both financially and in terms of quality of life. But by investing time and money into your wellness now, you may be able to mitigate these healthcare costs in the future.
The very basics of reducing the risk of becoming overweight or obese are to consume a healthy diet and strive to get more activity in your daily routine.
Living a healthy lifestyle can seem daunting because there are so many articles, videos, and social media posts about what works best, but I promise you, it’s worth the time and effort. It requires a commitment to yourself, dedicated time, and understanding that weight loss is about taking in fewer calories in and expending more calories. Wellness requires permanent lifestyle changes, so this process will be slow but maintainable, which is the goal. As you work on your wellness initiatives, you have the opportunity to live a better quality of life, live longer, and save more money.
You can start with a goal to consume fewer processed foods. Processed foods are usually known as convenience foods and have been processed by humans. Examples include breakfast cereals; bread and pastas; meat products like bacon, sausage, and salami; microwave-ready meals; and cakes and other pastries. Instead, try to stick to foods that come directly from the ground or an animal, also known as “whole foods.” No need to count macros—start with calories and learn how to eat mindfully. This is just a matter of educating yourself on certain foods and where to shop in your grocery store. It also helps to listen to your body. Mindful eating will encourage you to stop eating when you’re full (there is no need to clean your plate) and to not eat when you’re bored.
The next step is to increase activity. It doesn’t need to be a giant shift in lifestyle when you start. You can simply walk outside or ride the stationary bike at the gym. A good goal is to get moving for 30 minutes to an hour, four to five times per week. The changes can be minimal at first, and from there, as you lose weight and become more confident exercising, you can venture into classes and into the weight section of the gym. You could even set a goal you can work toward, like running a half marathon. Joining a gym is another upfront cost of choosing a healthy lifestyle, but consider how it pays for itself with a healthier and happier you.
On your next grocery shopping trip, when the higher price tag of the whole foods in your cart may seem discouraging, think instead of your future health. Consider how much money you will be saving on care costs in the long run by implementing healthy habits now. Every step toward healthy eating and increased activity can be seen as one less prescription drug or medical bill you may otherwise need down the road.
Little choices every day will add up to improve your health. Consistency is key. If you continue to make small, healthy changes, you’ll find yourself meeting and even exceeding your goals.