Study: Bay Area bears weight of obesity

Survey calculates fiscal impact of overweight residents at $9.1 billion annually

Rampant obesity is costing Bay Area businesses and taxpayers more than $9 billion a year, according to a new study from a Davis-based public health nonprofit.

Californians' expanding waistlines aren't just unhealthy, they're expensive, according to the study released this week by the California Center for Public Health Advocacy. The report estimates that obesity and physical inactivity in adults drains $41 billion per year from California's economy.

That number is nearly double the total from the last survey, released in 2000. The new numbers also show obesity rates are up 33 percent from nine years ago.

Businesses and taxpayers in the nine Bay Area counties lose a combined $9.1 billion annually, according to the data. Alameda County led the way with a $2.2 billion reported cost, followed by $2 billion in Santa Clara County, $1.3 billion in Contra Costa County and $1.2 billion in San Mateo County.

San Franciscans' excess weight drains $1 billion annually. Marin County posted the region's lowest number, at $178 million.

Dr. Harold Goldstein, the group's executive director, said in a statement that these numbers show the need for health-focused public policy at all levels, "from national health care reform and the state's use of federal stimulus funding to regional growth and local policies that help people eat healthy food and be more physically active."

A health and econometrics firm in North Carolina conducted the study, along with its 2000 predecessor. The group says its figures are based on health care costs and costs associated with health-related drops in worker productivity.

In a release, California State Comptroller John Chiang noted that the total cost is roughly one-third of California's state budget. However, since the costs are spread among employers and taxpayers, both public and private sectors bear the brunt of these numbers.

If current trends continue, conservative projections show the cost will jump to $53 billion in 2011, according to the report.

There is a small bright side, however: The report also states that modest health gains could lead to large financial ones. Improving obesity and inactivity rates by just 5 percent over 5 years could cut $12 billion of those costs.

The study considers residents with a body mass index between 25 to 29.9 to be overweight. People with a body mass index of 30 or more are considered obese. The study defines "inactive" people as those who get less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days.


Like this comment
Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jul 14, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Interesting article but the headline "Bay Area bears weight of obesity" is misleading. Using the reference and Web Link there is not much difference between cost per individual. L.A. county is on my "eyeball average" about $1200/person. Santa Clara is about the same but Alameda Co. does exceed. Smaller counties tend to be a bit better.

But how did they arrive at these numbers and what do they mean?? Looking for methodology, I end up at the same place every time.

I do believe there is a major problem. We visited the Maritimes in the late '90s. We noted in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia many individuals that we likened to the Pillsbury Doughboy. When we returned to the bay area, we noted a considerable difference; there were very few noticeably overweight people. A pediatrician friend who spends much time in Maine agreed. We put it up to longer, colder winters than ours.

I also noted that several years ago the local park [Bubb] was occupied all weekend with youth soccer games and baseball weekday evenings. Son-in-law who plays tournament softball in the S.F. area commented that there was a tremendous dropoff in the number of leagues and the number of games. I asked the reason: "computer games!".

Yeah, lack of P.E. and McDonald's but I think he hit it.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jul 14, 2009 at 11:00 pm

This study sounds like pure speculation and a pitch for someone to approve the grant for Goldstein's public education program.

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