When history books are written about the late 20th and early 21st centuries, you can be sure they will discuss the rise of obesity—hopefully in a real past tense sense.  The rise in obesity in the industrialized, “western” world has been swift, dramatic, and is becoming increasingly deadly.

And, as if there weren’t enough health-related reasons to combat obesity, there is another rising concern: the financial costs.

Most obviously, there are the health care costs of obesity-related illness. That cost is estimated to be around $190 billion annually, which amounts to 21% of annual health care spending!  For one obese adult, the 3rd party insurance system will likely spend around $15 million in care.  Overweight individuals are somewhat lower, costing around $5.4 million.

And the future seems dim in regards to the which direction this spending will go.  Why?  Because childhood obesity is rising drastically, and obese kids will most likely become obese adults, costing the system increasing billions.

The other costs concern is the loss of productivity due to absenteeism from obesity-related diseases, and “presenteeism”, where the individual is at work, but not able to operate at the same level as a normal weight, healthy individual.  These costs are estimated to be around $16 million for an obese individual.

Finally, there is another concern that is less financial cost, and more societal cost. That is that it is estimated that 1 in 4 young adults are considered too overweight to join the military!  This could present serious issues for recruitment in the near future.  And on the financial side, Tricare (the military’s healthcare system) spends over $1 billion on weight-related diseases, which is costing the taxpayers.

So, why am I saying all this?  Is it to shame obese people for costing us so much?  Of course not.  But I do think we need to see and understand these sobering statistics.  Overcoming this so-called “obesity epidemic” is not only a matter of saving lives (which, of course, is most important), but about saving the prosperity of our nation.

It touches all of us, which is why I think we need to all do our part to decrease obesity in this nation, even if we ourselves are not obese.  No, that doesn’t mean getting angry at the obese.  It means voting with our dollars for a better food system.  Fighting for your local schools to include recess and PE so our kids have a chance to grow up active and healthy.  Supporting and participating in community events that encourage healthful eating and movement.

There are plenty of opportunities to help!