Article

The Economic Impact of Obesity in the United States

Ross A. Hammond and Ruth Levine

Abstract: Over the past several decades, obesity has grown into a major global epidemic. In the
United States, more than two-thirds of adults are now overweight and one-third is obese.
In this article, we provide an overview of the state of research on the likely economic impact
of the US obesity epidemic at the national level. Research to date has identified at least four
major categories of economic impact linked with the obesity epidemic: direct medical costs,
productivity costs, transportation costs, and human capital costs. We review current evidence on
each set of costs in turn, and identify important gaps for future research and potential trends in
future economic impacts of obesity. Although more comprehensive analysis of costs is needed,
substantial economic impacts of obesity are identified in all four categories by existing research.
The magnitude of potential economic impact underscores the importance of the obesity epidemic
as a focus for policy and a topic for future research.

Introduction

Over the past several decades, obesity has grown into a major global epidemic. By 2002,
nearly 500 million people were overweight worldwide. In the United States (US),
rates of obesity have doubled since 1970 to over 30%, with more than two-thirds of
Americans
now overweight. The determinants of this epidemic are likely complex,
with substantial heterogeneity at the individual level in both causes and consequences
that is beyond the scope of the current review.

In this article, we provide an overview of the state of research on the likely
economic
impact of the US obesity epidemic at the aggregate level. We conducted
a broad search of the literature that addresses potential economic costs of obesity.
The most recent studies that sample US populations have identified at least four major
categories of economic impact linked with the obesity epidemic: direct medical costs,
productivity costs, transportation costs, and human capital costs. We systematically
review current evidence on each set of costs in turn, and discuss important gaps for
future research along with potential trends in future economic impacts of obesity. This
review adds to the current research on the economic impact of obesity by providing
a more comprehensive overview of the range of effects, as well as a summary of the
most up-to-date estimates.

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