Extra weight can cost you your health—and your savings.
By Cindy Kuzma – Men’s Health
The bigger the number on the scale, the greater your health-care costs, according to a new Duke University study. And you pay a penalty for added pounds, even if you don’t qualify as overweight.
Researchers looked at the medical expenses of more than 17,000 Duke employees over a 10-year period. As their body mass index (BMI) increased, so did spending on doctor visits, procedures, and medications. In fact, each one-unit uptick in BMI above 19—the low end of a healthy weight—increased men’s medical costs by about 4 percent and drug costs by 2 percent.
Here’s how that plays out: If you’re a 6-foot-tall guy at a normal weight—140 to 177 pounds—your employer and insurer on average would cover yearly medical costs of about $1,677 and a pharmacy bill of $645. Those costs would gradually increase as you gain weight, topping out at more than $3,400 at the doctor and $1,200 at the drugstore once you tip the scales at 294 pounds or more, according to the study.
While you don’t directly pay for health-care claims, in most cases out-of-pocket expenses rise as claims increase, notes study author Truls Østbye, M.D., Ph.D.. And that’s not even considering the other costs related to illness, including time off from work.
The results don’t surprise weight-loss experts. “We now know that fat cells produce noxious chemicals, such as inflammatory cytokines, that incite a state of chronic, low-level inflammation,” says Jay Kenney, Ph.D., nutritional research specialist at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa in Miami. “This type of inflammation is linked not only with heart disease but also with various cancers, diabetes, arthritis, and other illnesses.”
The study found especially strong links between extra pounds and costs for:
-Heart disease increased from $208 to $640 per person per year, and cardiovascular drug costs increased from $59 to $225. Being heavy increases your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and your risk for sleep apnea, all of which place extra strain on the heart, says Caroline Cederquist, M.D., a weight-management expert and medical director of diet delivery service BistroMD.
-Musculoskeletal conditions increased from $273 to $715. Supporting extra pounds increases the wear-and-tear on your muscles, bones, and joints, boosting your risk for injuries and arthritis, Dr. Østbye says.
-Diabetes and other metabolic conditions increased from $37 to $167, and costs for medications including insulin increased from $31 to $364. Weight gain interferes with your body’s ability to use insulin properly, eventually leading to type 2 diabetes, Dr. Cederquist says.
The biggest health risks tend to come with belly fat, which builds up around internal organs, Dr. Cederquist says. To keep yours in check, look beyond the scale. Run a measuring tape around your waist just above your hipbone—if you get a number of 40 inches or higher, it’s time to get serious about shedding pounds.
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