It’s not exactly news that maintaining a healthy weight lowers risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, ultimately saving money on healthcare costs. But exactly how much can dropping, 10, 20 or 30 pounds save?
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University attempted to put a dollar figure to weight loss, analyzing how changing from obese to overweight, and obese to a healthy weight, could affect your wallet. According to the data, published today in the journal Obesity, losing enough weight to meet the overweight classification at the age of 20 will save you $17,655 over the course of a lifetime. However, if someone lowers their BMI to what’s considered a healthy weight, the same person could save $28,020 in their lifetime.
As chronic illnesses tend to set in with age, it makes sense that being obese at 50 would have a higher economic impact, or a savings of roughly $36,000, according to the data. All figures reflect savings from productivity and medical costs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 70 percent of American adults are overweight or obese. The study authors said this equates to nearly $210 billion a year just in direct medical expenses. Study co-author Bruce Lee explains we should look at the total figures.
"Over half the costs of being overweight can be from productivity losses, mainly due to missed work days... This means that just focusing on medical costs misses a big part of the picture, though they're a consideration, too," Lee, M.D. and MBA, said in a statement. "Productivity losses affect businesses, which in turn affects the economy, which then affects everyone."
To determine cost, the team developed a computational model representing the adult population, simulating health changes that come with weight and aging. And according to health economist Cyril Chang, Ph.D., Lee and his team are fairly accurate.
“The cost-saving estimates seem reasonable given what we know about the direct medical costs and productivity loss due to obesity and the efficacy of weight loss,” he tells Newsweek via email. “For a 20-year-old, lifetime estimates of cost savings are done for a long period of time. If anything, the estimates of lifetime cost savings seem conservative to me.”
While it’s easy to offer advice like, “eat healthier” or “exercise more,” Chang says research efforts need to be directed towards providing people with support and practical weight loss strategies. “The real challenge is to find ways to help overweight individuals to lose weight and keep their weight down,” he explained. “Changing behavior is hard.”