So it turns out that losing weight won’t save health care dollars. But it will make you live longer. A Dutch study has concluded that lifetime health care costs are actually higher for normal-weight, non smokers than for their peers who are obese or who use tobacco. But what about health care dollars per year of life? It makes sense that living longer will boost medical spending, since most health care dollars are spent in the latter years of ones life. The reason smokers and obese people cost less to treat is that it doesn’t cost anything to treat a dead person. Both groups die earlier, thus ending their medical spending. No more health insurance premiums, no more prescriptions, no more doctor visits, no more deductibles to meet.
I think most of us would rather live longer – especially if we can do so as healthy, active, normal-weight seniors – than die early because of complications from obesity or smoking and save a few health care dollars.
In Colorado, we have the lowest obesity rate in the nation, at just under 17% of the adult population. So in the slimmest state in the country, we still have nearly one in five adults categorized as obese. That’s not exactly bragging rights. Every state – Colorado included – has a long way to go in reversing the ever-increasing numbers on our scales.
This study looked at lifetime health costs – and medical costs end abruptly when a person dies. Wouldn’t it be more productive to look at a year-by-year comparison of costs? How about a 65-year-old person of normal weight compared with a 65-year-old who is obese? That sort of monetary comparison would be more telling, since dying isn’t the most preferred way to reduce health care expenses.
I hope that studies like this don’t derail efforts being made by state and local governments to lower the rates of smoking and obesity across the board. Our goal should be to lower medical spending to get it in line with the money that is spent per capita in other industrialized countries, while also working to achieve their higher life expectancies. Lowering the rates of obesity and smoking would most certainly help with the latter. Overhauling the way we run our health care system would help with the former.