The Price of Being Overweight

Being overweight or obese will cost you in the form of doctor’s bills, sick days, fuel costs, and more

November 18, 2011
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Between skyrocketing insurance premiums, medical expenses, and lower pay, being overweight certainly comes at a price--but just how much does it cost to carry around extra pounds? (Search: No cost workouts) For women, being obese may cost $4,879 per year, according to George Washington University researchers who conducted a review of 94 studies last year. Compounded over 20 years, that's close to $100,000 that could have been put toward retirement. Men pay a slightly lower price thanks to higher relative pay, but their bank accounts take a hit as well, to the tune of $2,626 annually. To understand where all that money's going, we took a look at the research, spoke with experts, and crunched the numbers. Here's what we found.

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Medical Costs

Ailments associated with being overweight, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and on-the-job injuries, can lead to big medical bills. (Find out how you can eat to beat diabetes.) Overweight people spend an additional $346 per year on medical costs, according to the George Washington University study; obese people shell out an additional $1,474 a year. This amount factors in co-payments, prescription drugs, and hospital costs, but doesn't take into account any over-the-counter drugs, so the amount may be even higher, says Christine Ferguson, director of STOP Obesity Alliance and one of the researchers.

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Income

Being obese doesn't just cost you more money, it can also limit how much you rake in--if you're a woman. Studies conclude that being obese can lower women's wages by between 1.5 to 15%, which averages out to be a loss of $1,855 a year. "I think that this issue of lost wages really reflects a huge bias against people who are overweight or obese," says Ferguson. In surveys, employers see obese women as lacking self-discipline and being less emotionally stable and competent than their thinner peers. However, heavier women also complete fewer years of education and retire earlier, both of which contribute to less money earned over time.

Why aren't the salaries of obese men affected? "I suspect the labor market is more competitive for men than for women, so it is harder to discriminate against men," says Eric A. Finklestein, an associate research professor in the Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University and author of The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, if It Matters and What to Do about It.

Interestingly, two studies suggest some obese women are less likely to be employed, but obese African American men and women are more likely to be employed. While obese Hispanic and white women are less likely to be employed than their normal-weight counterparts, no such relationship was found for Hispanic and white men. However, obese African American men and women are more likely to be employed than normal-weight African American men and women. The researchers note that more in-depth study on the topic is warranted before a conclusion can be drawn.

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Sick Days

Being obese might also cause you to lose more cash from work days lost to illness. Absenteeism causes overweight women to lose an additional $106 per year; obese men see a hit of $212, whereas obese women are set back $674.

Related: Boost your immunity with exercise. Get MSN OnPoint for fitness tips on the go.

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Clothing

While there's no one study that has calculated the added cost of purchasing plus-size fashion, there's anecdotal evidence that buying bigger clothing is more expensive. For example, Old Navy's standard boot cut jeans costs $34.50, but the plus-size version is $43. A cable-knit sweater from the same store costs $37; the same plus-size design sells for $40.

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Fuel Costs

The George Washington University study estimated that overweight individuals spend between $8 and $10 more a year on gas than those with lower BMIs. Obese people shell out an extra $21 to $23 to fill the tank. Why? Just as an SUV requires more gas to operate than a Smart car does because of its sheer size, it takes more fuel to transport heavier passengers.

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Travel

Under its customers-of-size policy, Southwest Airlines requires people who can't fit into the planes' 17-inch-wide seats to purchase two tickets, so obese individuals may have to spend twice as much to fly. You can, however, get a refund for your second ticket if the flight isn't sold out. Air Tran plans to follow suit in spring 2012.

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Life Insurance

In their report, the George Washington University researchers calculated that overweight people spend an extra $14 a year on life insurance. Obese people pay an extra $111 a year compared with normal-weight individuals.

Next up: 15 Minutes to a Longer Life