Actuaries Research Annual Cost of Obesity Epidemic

March 6, 2017

According to a study by the Society of Actuaries, the economic cost of an overweight, obese population in the United States and Canada is almost $300 billion annually, with $270 billion, about 90 percent, attributed directly to the United States.

The study defined “overweight” as a BMI of 25.0-29.9 with a BMI of more than 20 qualifying as obese. The researchers looked specifically at increased necessity for medical care and a loss of economic productivity due to disability or death.

The economic costs were broken down specifically, with $127 billion for excess medical care, $49 billion to loss of productivity due to death, $43 billion in lost productivity for active workers due to disability, and $72 billion for totally disabled workers.

“We found substantial evidence that overweight and obesity are becoming world-wide epidemics, and are having negative impacts on health and mortality,” said actuary Don Behan, an independent consulting actuary and one of two researchers who reviewed almost 500 articles on obesity. “As actuaries, we are working with the insurance industry to help incentivize consumers through their health plan design to focus on health and wellness, which will hopefully help curb the weight and health problems we face today.”

“Overweight and obesity have been shown to increase the rate of several common adverse medical conditions, resulting in this extraordinary economic cost to society,” said Behan. “We can’t stand back and ignore the fact that overweight and obesity are drivers of cost increases and detrimental economic effects. It’s time for actuaries, the employer community and the insurance industry to take action and help consumers make smart, healthy decisions.”