Causes and Effect of Obesity on the Economy
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Published: Mon, 09 Oct 2017
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Name: Samantha McNair
According to a research article written by Dr. Eric Finkelstein, titled The Economic Causes and Consequences of Obesity, two-thirds of the American adult population are classified as being either overweight or obese. This fraction represents an increase of 12% for overweight and 70% for obesity in the last ten years. Not only are adults being affected by this complex disorder, children are also victims of this ever-growing population problem. Dr. Eric Finkelstein states that “16 percent of children and adolescents ages 6-19 years are overweight (including obese)” and “[r]epresents a 45 percent increase over the last decade” (4). American society is not the only population affected by this medical condition. For example, an article written by Tahereh Alavi Hojjat, titled The Economic Analysis of Obesity, states “Over the past several decades, obesity has grown to be a major global epidemic.” He also states that “[o]besity is not limited to the United States; most of the world has grown fatter since the 1970s. According to the most recent figures from the National Child Measurement Programme, which assesses the height and weight of primary children in England, just over 33 percent of 11-year-olds are now overweight or obese and among four- and five-year-olds it is 22 percent” (81). With the statistics of obesity being substantially high, the obvious questions are, why is this happening in the first place, how does it affect the economy, and what can we do as a society to counteract this growing problem? First, it is important to identify the major factors that causes obesity and how it can negatively affect the economy. Then, derive solutions from this information that we can implement in our daily lives to improve on this epidemic issue at hand to bring a positive effect.
There are many factors that contribute to the obesity epidemic such as food, poverty, and technology, to name a few. First, let’s look at negative food choices that assist in the growing obesity problem. There is one type of food that the population choose to consume which can be beneficial in certain ways but, at the same time, pose a negative health risk. The fast food chain is convenient, less costly, and provides larger portion sizes. But the negative aspect of fast food is that it is unhealthy due to high calories and total fats. A study conducted by the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, using U.S. Department of Agriculture’s survey data from 1994-96, concluded that “[a]dults who reported eating fast food on at least one survey day had higher mean body mass index values than those who did not eat fast food on both survey days. A small, but significant, positive association was seen between fast food consumption and overweight status. Within-person comparisons showed that energy intakes were higher on a fast food day than on a non-fast food day” (Bowman, Shanthy A, and Bryan T Vinyard). As we can see from this study, fast food intake contributes to higher calories and total fats than non-fast food products. Another problem is the steadily growing number of fast food chains making it easily accessible to the population. According to the United States Fast Food Restaurants Industry Report, in 2007 there were 273,841 fast food establishments. In 2011, this number grew to 298,021 which is an increase of 24,180 or an estimated 8.8% increase in just four years (4).
Another factor that can contribute to obesity is poverty. With fast food chains offering lower cost foods compared to higher cost healthy foods found in grocery stores and supermarkets, fast food choices become a motivator for low income families. Darmon Drewnowski, author of The economics of obesity: dietary energy density and energy cost, quoted that “[h]ighest rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States are found among the lower-income groups. The observed links between obesity and socioeconomic position may be related to dietary energy density and energy cost. Refined grains, added sugars, and added fats are among the lowest-cost sources of dietary energy”. According to the Food Research and Action Center, in a national study, the BMI (body mass index) amongst adults was higher in lower income groups than higher income groups and wages were related to the BMI and obesity from a sample of 6,000 adults. Also, the national study of over 40,000 children found that children from lower income households had more than two times the chances of being obese than higher income households (website). Conclusively, poverty can play an important role in the obesity dilemma that is currently affecting the U.S. population.
Lastly, modern technology has largely contributed to obesity in numerous ways. Society has become so dependent on technology that they no longer find themselves being as active. For example, with the kind of technology that exists today there’s no need to leave home to rent movies, go shopping, or even go to work in some employment arrangements. With the innovative advancements of TV’s, mobile phones, and computer, this otherwise physical activity is not necessary. Not only does technology influence the home environment, it has also affected the work environment in such a way that business structures have changed; robotics are being used instead of physical labor, more job procedures require technology use, and work can be performed from anywhere in certain positions. An article titled The Long-Run Growth In Obesity As A Function Of Technological Change states “Technological change caused the price of calories to fall because food prices have declined while at the same time the amount of physical exertion required when supplying labor has also fallen.” More interestingly, “In a postindustrial and redistributive society, such as that of the United Sates today, most work entails little exercise and not working does not cause a reduction in weight, because food stamps and other welfare benefits are available to people who do not work.” (Philipson, Tomas J, and Richard A Posner) In this situation, technology, as well as benefit dependency, helped make society as a whole more inactive which has added to the obesity epidemic.
As best described by Odelia Rosin, “[o]besity has major economic aspects. Obesity affects demand for and supply of health care. It has relations to demand and supply in markets for food, fast food, restaurants, advertising, physical exercise and dieting. The epidemic of obesity absorbs increasingly greater health care budgets and attracts increasing concern from governments” (622). It’s easy to see that the obesity epidemic is very costly to society in many ways. Unfortunately, “[o]besity is the second leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Each year approximately 300,000 lives are lost due to the direct or indirect consequences of obesity” (Tahereh Alavi Hojjat, 88). On a business standpoint, obese employees can be costly to the company. Employers of individuals with this medical condition may find that employee have higher absenteeism and presenteeism which adversely affects their productivity. “The cost of obesity among full-time employees, in the United States, has been estimated to be $73.1 billion per year (Finkelstein et al. 2011), in details: 18 percent due to sick days, 41 percent due to lack of productivity because of health issues, and 41 percent due to general medical expenses. Hence, the hidden or so-called indirect costs related to obesity are a relevant percentage of the total.” (Tahereh Alavi Hojjat, 89). The medical costs that are incurred through obesity is substantially high as well. “Direct medical costs related to obesity are secondary to preventive, diagnostic and treatment services. Hammond and Levine (2010) measured direct medical costs associated with obesity. They argue that relative medical spending for the obese may be as much as 100 percent higher than for healthy weight adults, and nationwide “excess” medical spending may amount to as much as $147.0 billion annually for adults and $14.3 billion annually for children” (Tahereh Alavi Hojjat, 89).
Finkelstein, Eric A, Christopher J Ruhm, and Katherine M Kosa. “Economic Causes and Consequences ofObesity.” Annual Review Of Public Health 26. (2005): 239-257. MEDLINE. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
Hojjat, Tahereh Alavi. “The Economic Analysis of Obesity.” Review Of Business & Finance Studies 6.1 (2015): 81- 98. Entrepreneurial Studies Source. Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Bowman, Shanthy A, and Bryan T Vinyard. “Fast Food Consumption Of U.S. Adults: Impact On Energy And Nutrient Intakes And Overweight Status.” Journal Of The American College Of Nutrition 23.2 (2004): 163-168. MEDLINE. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
“Fast Food Restaurants Industry (NAICS 72221).” United States Fast Food Restaurants Industry Report (2010): 1 283. Small Business Reference Center. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Drewnowski, A, and N Darmon. “The Economics Of Obesity: Dietary Energy Density And Energy Cost… Science Based Solutions To Obesity: What Are The Roles Of Academia, Government, Industry, And Health Care? Proceedings Of The Symposiums Held In Boston, MA March 10-11, 2004 And In Anaheim, CA October 2, 2004.” American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition 82.1 (2005): 265S-273. CINAHL with Full Text. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
“Relationship Between Poverty and Overweight or Obesity” Food Research andAction Center. Food Research and Action Center, n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2014
Philipson, Tomas J, and Richard A Posner. “The Long-Run Growth In Obesity As A Function Of Technological Change.” Perspectives In Biology And Medicine 46.3 Suppl (2003): S87-S107. MEDLINE. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Rosin, Odelia. “The Economic Causes Of Obesity: A Survey.” Journal Of Economic Surveys 22.4 (2008): 617-647. Business Source Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2014.
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