Pounds of Pennies

Next time you are trying to convey to your clients the repercussions of an unhealthy lifestyle, break the topic down into dollars and cents. Here’s how Money magazine quantified poor health habits on the CNN/Money website December 6, 2004:

  • Per year, a smoker’s medical costs run $1,623 higher than a nonsmoker’s.
  • An obese person spends an average of $900 more a year in medical expenses than a person of normal weight.
  • A 45-year-old nonsmoker with normal blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight pays 45% less a year for life insurance than a nonsmoker who is less healthy. Premiums for a smoker who quits fall by 63%.
  • Per person, the poor-health tally is $7,868 annually.

Medicare: The Cost of Obesity

How much of an effect will extra pounds have on the Medicare system in the years to come? According to a study published in the December 8 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) (2004; 292 [22], 2743–49), being overweight or obese in young adulthood and middle age may gravely impact tomorrow’s Medicare expenditures.

The study looked at the impact of body mass index (BMI) earlier in life on payments for treating cardiovascular and diabetes-related diseases; on total average annual charges; and on cumulative charges, from 65 years to death or age 83.

Data from 1984 to 2002 were linked with data from the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry (which enrolled participants from 1967 to 1973) for 9,980 men and 7,620 women. Participants were free of coronary heart disease, diabetes and major electrocardiographic abnormalities; were not underweight; and were eligible for Medicare for at least 2 years during 1984 to 2002. Subjects were classified by baseline BMI.

The researchers found that for both men and women, average annual and cumulative Medicare charges were significantly higher for those with higher BMIs. Here were the total average annual charges for women:

  • not overweight: $6,225
  • overweight: $7,650
  • obese: $9,610
  • severely obese: $12,340

The breakdown for men was as follows:

  • not overweight: $7,200
  • overweight: $8,390
  • obese: $10,130
  • severely obese: $13,675