How Much Does It Cost to Be Fat?

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This guest post comes from Jane Sanders at

Everyone knows that being overweight or obese can take a toll on your lifespan, but what about its toll on your bank account?

Until recently, no study had ever calculated the specific annual costs to each individual. But in September 2010, the School of Public Health and Health Services at George Washington University released a study [PDF], and the results are staggering: Each year, obese women take on $4,879 in additional costs while obese men spend an additional $2,646! Let’s break down the results…

The difference between normal, overweight, and obese

First, let’s discern the difference between “normal,” “overweight,” and “obese.” These are the classifications used by the Center for Disease Control to classify people by body mass index (BMI), a measure similar to body fat percentage:

  • Normal: 18.5-24.9
  • Overweight: 25-29.9
  • Obese: 30-plus

To calculate your own BMI, use the CDC’s calculator.

What accounts for the additional costs of being obese or overweight

According to the GWU study, an overweight woman spends $524 more per year than her normal-BMI counterparts, while overweight men spend an additional $432.

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For a complete breakdown for the individual costs of obesity, take a look at the graph above. As you can see, the major driving force behind the cost of obesity is lost wages.

Health issues

The second-greatest cause of increased expense is health care. Type II diabetes, cardiovascular issues, high cholesterol, stomach ulcers, gallbladder disease, muscle and bone difficulties, and certain forms of cancer are all potential complications for overweight individuals. Especially for those without insurance, caring for any of these conditions can add considerable expense to an annual health budget. In addition to direct costs of doctor visits or hospital stays, the cost of prescription medicine is generally higher for obese individuals.

Other costs

Many other areas of daily living are impacted as well. The cost of life insurance goes up dramatically for individuals who are above recommended weight levels for their age and build. The more overweight you are, the higher the risk for the insurance company, which is reflected in higher rates for health, disability, and life insurance. The GWU study shows that obese individuals have at least a 5-year reduction in life expectancy.

Other household expenses increase as well for overweight people. Due to added weight, spending for gasoline increases by an average of $21 – $23 per year, and recent news stories have highlighted cases of obese travelers being charged double because they couldn’t fit in one seat. Extra-large clothing generally costs more than regular sized clothes.

The ultimate price

Although we’re focusing on the financial ramifications of unhealthy habits, the cost on your lifestyle is perhaps even greater. Excess weight can affect your motivation or ability to do things you enjoy such as playing with children, participating in sports, or maintaining high energy levels throughout the day. Don’t forget that the real benefit of getting in shape is priceless. Don’t just do it for your wallet, do it for yourself!

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