The inability to maintain a healthy weight continues to develop as one of the most widespread health ailments among citizens of developed societies. Despite the numerous industries revolving around calls for positive, health-driven lifestyles, obesity remains an imminent global health concern. In addition to the health risks that it presents, weight-maintenance issues must also be measured in terms of the social cost they create.
In terms of personal, direct health care costs, obesity requires a reallocation of resources toward programs that are designed to either prevent weight gain or assist people in losing weight who are already obese. Indirectly, people who are overweight have a higher risk of succumbing to related health ailments, including cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer. A U.S. government-issued report estimated that the medical cost associated with weight-related health issues in the United States was approximately US$147 billion.
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Our population is getting older as advances in health care allow for many residents of developed countries to avoid some of the most common ailments related to aging. However, a result of this reality is the necessity for younger generations to enter and remain in the workforce in order to provide for a society that continues to grow in size. This, therefore, leads to another cost of weight-related ailments — the resulting increase in work absenteeism. Further, obese workers have also been shown to be less productive when they are at work, which again creates a burdensome cost to society.
On a more individual, micro-level, weight-related health concerns can cost individuals in terms of their mental health. Numerous studies have found a positive correlation between individuals who are overweight and their risk of being diagnosed with psychiatric disorders ranging from anxiety disorders to major depressive disorder.
This link could be physiological in nature, as one’s weight and overall physical health have been found to impact one’s mental health. Additionally, this link could also maintain a cultural dynamic, as overweight individuals are more likely to be the subjects of public ridicule.
If these overweight individuals struggling with a mental illness attempt to self-medicate through the use of alcohol or other non-prescription drugs, the negative impact to themselves and to society, in general, could be multi-fold.
Although not entirely direct, the link between obesity and psychiatric disorders forces society to dedicate greater financial and human resources toward the treatment of mental illness and addiction.
Ultimately, the cost that modern societies face due to the prevalence of obesity stems from multiple sources. On a macro level, health care costs are clearly linked to this preventable risk factor. On a micro level, the individuals that struggle to lose weight must deal with the associated physical and psychiatric costs.