In 2004, total health care spending reached roughly $30 billion in Washington state.  In Oregon, that total was $16 billion; In Idaho, about $5.5 billion.  That’s not chump change:  health care now absorbs about one-eighth of the total output of the Northwest states’ economies.

And, based on the results of thesenational studies, and thesestate-level estimates, at least a tenth of all medical spending in the Northwest is related the ailments (diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer and the like) caused by obesity, overweight, and physical inactivity.

These are, of course, round numbers.  Unless I’m mistaken, there just aren’t good, up-to-the-minute estimates of health care spending in the Northwest.  And multiplying the confusion, it’s hard to separate out the costs of obesity, overweight and physical inactivity. 

That said, it looks pretty likely that the total, direct medical costs of the obesity-overweight-inactivity nexus top $5 billion for the three Northwest states combined.  And that’s just the direct medical costs; it doesn’t account for lost worker productivity, worker’s compensation, and all of the other indirect costs of poor health brought on by inactivity or overweight.  This report suggests that those indirect costs top $4.6 billion per year—for physical inactivity alone, and just within Washington state.  That number seems mighty high.  But if it’s anywhere close to being accurate, it could mean that promoting exercise and eliminating excessive body weight might boost the region’s economy by, oh, about 3 percent.

Or, put differently:  reducing the size of our people might be a pretty good strategy for increasing the size of the economy.