Obesity currently affects over one-third of the U.S. population, but it looks like a much larger percentage is paying for it. New research shows people are either not making enough to afford to make healthy diet and nutrition decisions, or they’re spending too much of their income on obesity-related costs.
Low incomes, high obesity rates
A new study comparing data from the U.S. Census Bureau and The State of Obesity shows a strong correlation between the 10 poorest states, based on median income, and the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity.
This includes such states as Mississippi, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Louisiana and South Carolina. Mississippi, with the highest rate of obesity in the U.S., has been the first or second highest ranked state in terms of obesity since the first State of Obesity report in 1990.
However, researchers found that lower incomes are only one factor affecting obesity rates. People in lower-income states may also have restricted access to outdoor recreation, grocery stores or healthy food options. This suggests that people in these states are spending much of what little money they have on unhealthy food options.
Another study, which analyzed blood pressure, smoking, and eating habits, concluded that women in Mississippi have the greatest chance of developing heart disease within the next decade. The study, published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, also found that men in Louisiana have the greatest risk of developing heart disease. Louisiana has also been consistently ranked near the top of the obese states since 1990.
Lower obesity rates, higher obesity costs
But what’s to be said about the wealthier states? A logical conclusion would be that wealthier states are healthier states. But researchers found states with the lowest rates of obesity don't directly correlate to those with higher incomes. That’s because in some states where incomes aren’t at the top of the list there are many outdoor recreation options. That helps to explain why Colorado is the least obese state in the U.S.
According to researchers from Columbia and Yale University, obesity exacts a different kind of cost in high-income states. The study found that it can clearly reduce worker productivity, and specifically that obesity-related ailments can cost U.S. businesses almost $9 billion a year. The study was conducted by cross analyzing data from the 1998-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included Body Mass Index (BMI) data for more than 100,000 people.
They concluded that the higher above the obesity threshhold, or BMI over 30, the more absences from work. Employees with a BMI between 30 to 35 missed almost 30 percent more workdays than normal-weight employees. If an employee had a BMI over 40, they were found to be absent 44 percent more often. With a company losing anywhere from $290 to $465 a year per employee, these numbers can add up quickly.
Which state had the greatest losses in productivity? It was California, the state with the fifth lowest rate of obesity in the U.S.
Published On: November 26, 2014