Study: Obesity Costs California $41B

Exercise Seen As Way To Curb Costs

Californians' increasing girth is crippling the state's economy, according to a study released Thursday.

In just six years, reported economic costs of adult overweight, obesity and physical inactivity have nearly doubled and are now costing California an estimated $41 billion a year, the California Center for Public Health Advocacy said. An update of a 2000 report, the study shows a 33 percent rise in obesity rates contributed to sharp increases not only in health care costs, but also in lost productivity.

The report, which comes at a time when state leaders are grappling with a $26.3 billion budget deficit, is based on the latest available data and scientific research on the relationship between overweight, obesity and physical activity, and their collective impact on health care expenditures and worker productivity.

"To put this in perspective, the economic cost to California of adults who are obese, overweight and physically inactive is equivalent to more than a third of the state's total budget," state Controller John Chiang said in a prepared statment. "Think of the programs we could protect, the children we could educate and the families we could help if we could recapture those dollars by investing in prevention.

These figures demonstrate the real and very unsettling financial impact of the obesity epidemic on a California economy already in crisis." Chenoweth & Associates, a North Carolina-based health econometrics consulting firm, was commissioned by the California Department of Health Services in 2000 to generate the first cost-of-obesity study. The independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit CCPHA hired the firm to update the study to get a more contemporary picture. In addition to a new statewide figure, the updated study provides an accounting of obesity costs by county. CCPHA offered the following cost breakdown:

  • Los Angeles County - $11.9 billion
  • Orange County - $3.3 billion
  • San Diego County - $3 billion
  • Alameda County - $2.2 billion
  • Santa Clara County - $2.1 billion
  • Sacramento County - $1.7 billion

The authors pointed out that even small improvements in health can have a considerable impact. A 5 percent improvement in the rate of physical activity and healthy weight over five years could trim almost $12 billion from the state's obesity costs, the report said.

"The obesity crisis may seem overwhelming, but California has successfully tackled big health issues before," said Kim Belshe, secretary of California Health and Human Services Agency, in a news release. "The key is to establish concrete changes at the federal, state, and local level to make it easier for people to make healthier choices. This study shows that if those changes can help just one Californian in 20 reduce their weight and become more physically active, we could realize significant savings and begin to turn this crisis around."

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