The total cost includes lost productivity, as well as healthcare costs.

Enlarge / The total cost includes lost productivity, as well as healthcare costs. (credit: e-Magine Art / Flickr)

A report released this week puts a surprisingly high figure on the societal cost of obesity in the US: $1.72 trillion annually, or 9.3 percent of GDP. By contrast, the current CDC estimates are in the region of $150 billion, less than one tenth as high.

By far the biggest chunk of that $1.72 trillion is the $1.24 trillion chunk attributed to the “indirect” costs of obesity: the “work absences, lost wages, and reduced economic productivity for the individuals suffering from the conditions and their family caregivers,” the report explains. That is, the bulk comes from costs other than healthcare spending. The estimate for healthcare spending—$480.7 billion annually—is somewhat higher than a range of estimates in reviews of the literature, which hover around $150 to $300 billion, but are still on the same scale.

Estimates like these can vary substantially because of the different methods used in calculating them. For example, a review from 2017 catalogues the different obesity-related diseases that were included in various studies across different countries; respiratory disorders and musculo-skeletal disorders make an appearance in some but not others. A 2016 meta-analysis describes a similarly wide range in how medical costs are calculated.

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