The Cost of Obesity


First Lady Michelle Obama has been working the talk show circuit lately promoting the second year of the “Let’s Move” campaign, which is her initiative to address childhood obesity.  Although obesity has been a topic of discussion for the better part of the 21st century, this initiative seems to have brought more attention to members of the Black community. However, to properly address childhood obesity, one must address the issue of obesity in general.

What does it mean to be obese?

There is a difference between being obese and overweight. If someone is obese, they are definitely overweight; however, a person is not necessarily obese if they are overweight. The issue of what is the ideal weight has been a topic of controversy because there are many factors to consider such as height, body type, and bone structure.  The ideal weight, for example, of a healthy average female that is 5’5” can range anywhere between 114lbs-144lbs. With such a range, a good place to start to determine whether someone is overweight or obese is to determine the person’s BMI (Body Mass Index). Using the BMI formula, a BMI of 19–24 is considered normal, while BMIs of 25–29 are defined as overweight. Obesity begins at a BMI of 30. These definitions of overweight and obesity were established after several studies examined the BMIs of millions of people and correlated them with rates of illness and death. BMIs in the normal range are associated with the lowest rates of illness and death, while higher BMIs are associated with progressively higher rates of illness and death.

Health risks

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), Blacks have 51% higher obesity rates over Whites nationwide. 32% of the Black population in Washington, DC is considered obese. This is an extremely high percentage given that Washington, DC is the fittest city in America according to Forbes magazine, and the fact that the city has an overall obesity rate of 22.6%.

Obesity is the leading cause of diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, congestive heart failure, and many other life threatening diseases.

It has been said that Blacks suffer from higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than other ethnic groups. Coupled with factors such as genetics, stress, external toxins, poor nutrition, and in many cases, lack of adequate healthcare, it is no coincidence that obesity is such a concern in the Black community.

The Cost of Obesity

According to a recent ABC News report, almost 10% of the United States’ medical cost is a result of obesity related illnesses.  The diet industry profits show the awareness that America has with its obesity issue, with 2010 estimates of about $58 billion spent on weight loss diets, surgeries, and supplements.

The medical costs associated with obesity related diseases are alarming. A report by the RTI Public Health Economics Program in Research Triangle Park, NC states that the average medical expenses for a “normal weight” individual per year can range between $3,400-$4,700, whereas an obese person’s average medical costs per year ranges between $4,870-$6,400.   Prescription drug costs are a major factor in these excess costs adding about $1,300 to healthcare costs for an obese person.


As many minorities live in “food deserts”, locations where fresh, affordable, healthy food sources are scarce, it is difficult for many families to make healthy food choices.  In the busy lives of working parents, convenience foods have been a staple in many households.  Though they have had their benefit in providing quick solutions to mealtime, they have contributed to the growing obesity rate. Added preservatives and ingredients such as high amounts of sodium, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and food colors and dyes have been identified as the biggest culprits to America’s expanding waistline. They have also been linked to many mental health issues such as depression, and behavioral disorders such as ADHD and Autism.

Many may argue that although convenience foods are bad for you, it is so much more expensive to eat healthy, whole foods. A study conducted by the Department of Family Medicine in Bethesda, MD proves this statement to be false. The study was based upon a low income, single parent household in an urban environment with an annual income of $ 28,067. The results concluded that the annual food cost of a diet consisting of convenience foods was $10,298.00 and the annual food costs for a healthy, whole foods diet costs was $5,019.00.

With the increase of community garden programs such as the Organic Garden Program at The Arc, 1901 Mississippi Avenue, SE, and farmer’s markets like Eastern Market and the Ward 8 Farmer’s Market, it is becoming easier for low income families to gain access to healthier food choices. Stores like Giant, Whole Foods, and Yes, Organic Markets accept food subsidy program benefits (SNAP) and have low price, healthy options.

Despite the alarming statistics, there is hope.  Becoming healthy is a lifestyle change that takes dedication, but being healthy, having more energy, less stress, and in most cases medication free is well worth it. Be sure to visit your doctor before making any lifestyle changes and discuss what the best weight loss options for you are.  Make it a family affair. If you are healthy and happy, your children are healthy and happy. Healthy living is up to you.


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