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Explaining the Gender Gap: Obesity Costs Women a Lot More Than Men


On the tail of yesterday’s finding that teenage girls get more weight-reduction surgeries than their male counterparts is a possible explanation: it costs a lot more for them to be obese. Obese women lose out on $4,879 per year because of their size, almost twice what it costs men.

Obese men are actually *more* at risk than women for certain obesity-related illnesses like heart attack and sleep apnea. So what gives?

A new study by George Washington University researchers calculated overall costs of obesity by factoring in everything from increases in sick days and medical costs to higher grocery bills and even extra gasoline (the heavier your car load, the more gas you guzzle). Based on that math, obesity costs women $4,879, and men $2,646.

When researchers added to that sum the economic cost of dying prematurely, the yearly loss shot up to $8,365 for women and $6,518 for men.

Turns out, however, the price differential had less to do with medical spending - health-care costs were steady across gender lines at $1,566 for the severely obese - than with discrimination. The study found that obese women were paid lower wages than their normal-weighted counterparts, while obese men did not suffer any salary loss as a result of their belt size.

The study was conducted by a manufacturer of equipment for lap-band surgery, a type of weight-loss surgery, so all results should be considered with knowledge of this conflict of interest. However, considering our already struggling economy, it is important to note the financial impacts of poor health. As USA Today reports:

Looking at the price tag may help policymakers weigh the value of spending to prevent and fight obesity, said [Dr. Kevin] Schulman [a professor of medicine and health economist at Duke University who wasn’t involved in the new report], pointing to factors like dietary changes over the past 30 years and physical environments that discourage physical activity.

“We’re paying a very high price as a society for obesity, and why don’t we think about it as a problem of enormous magnitude to our economy?” he asks. “We’re creating obesity and we need to do a man-on-the-moon effort to solve this before those poor kids in elementary school become diabetic middle-aged people.”

It’s bad news, but maybe it will help fund better prevention strategies and new treatment methods for this growing scourge.

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