The US national rate of obesity has doubled since 1990, so that in 2004, nearly one-quarter of Americans (23.1 percent) were classified as obese. Medical studies have established clear links from obesity to a variety of medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and others. Obesity is also costly: the increasing prevalence of obesity and costs of treating obesity-related diseases has helped to fuel the recent rise in medical spending. By one estimate, 27% of the cost increase from 1987 to 2001 was due to obesity.

The latest studies estimate that obesity alone costs the US around $75 billion annually, while while the added costs of treating conditions brought on by simply being overweight bring that share up to 9.1% of total US medical expenditures. On a regional level, obesity alone costs the Northwest over $2.3 billion dollars a year. That’s around 0.5% of our gross state product (see table below).

  • 1990
    Obesity Rate
    2004
    Obesity Rate
    Annual medical spending on obesity
    2003 dollars (% of all med. spending)
    US 11.6% 23.1% $75,000 million (5.3%)
    WA 9.4% 22.1% $1330 million (5.4%)
    OR 10.9% 21.2% $781 million (5.7%)
    ID 11.9% 20.8% $227 million (5.3%)

    On an individual level, obesity increases annual medical spending per person by 37.4%, or around $730 a year. And overweight increases spending per person by 14.5%, or $247 per year.

    The medical cost of obesity is a meaningful drain on our economy, and the costs listed here are only the direct medical expenditures. Not included are the indirect costs of lost productivity, lower quality of life, or years of life lost due to obesity-related illnesses.

    While obesity is caused by many factors, studiesindicate that the built environment is one influence. Sprawling neighborhoods designed for driving everywhere—with few sidewalks, nearby desirable destinations, or a direct route to destinations—can discourage residents from walking or bicycling. One way to fight obesity (while improving our quality of life) could be to redesign the places we live.