I have two groups. One is 1.6 to 2.1 times more likely to be obese than the other group. I've also compared the body mass index and found that the group of people in question have higher body mass indexes. This would be expected based on previous research citing the relative obesity rates, and the fact that body mass indices are typically normally distributed.

Have there been any attempts to measure the health costs of obesity in terms of either the obesity rate or body mass index?

Thanks for your time.

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    $\begingroup$ Is there any reason to include your first paragraph in this question? $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Mar 24 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ There seems to be lots of info out there, what have you researched so far? $\endgroup$
    – BruceWayne
    Mar 24 at 14:08
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the link, Bruce Wayne! $\endgroup$ Mar 24 at 14:24

2 Answers 2


"Have there been any attempts to measure the health costs of obesity in terms of either the obesity rate or body mass indices?"

Yes. Most literature that quantifies the costs/costs burden of Obesity uses the CDC definition, among adults age 20 and older, obesity is defined by a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher, where BMI is weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. While BMI is not a diagnostic measure, it is correlated with more expensive direct measures of body fatness like waist circumference. There is a general consensus amongst economists that higher BMI leads to higher Medical care costs.(Finkelstein, "Economic causes and consequences of obesity", 2005)

Some literature recommendations:

  1. "National medical spending attributable to overweight and obesity: how much, and who's paying?" (Finkelstein, 2003)

  2. "State-level estimates of annual medical expenditures attributable to obesity."(Finkelstein, 2004)

Both 1 and 2 discuss taxpayers burden of Obesity due to Medicare and Medicaid.

  1. "The medical care costs of obesity: an instrumental variables approach." (Cawley, 2012) estimates that 88% of total obesity-related medical care costs are paid by third-party payers.

  2. "The high and rising costs of obesity to the US healthcare system." (Biener, 2017) estimate that the aggregate cost of adult obesity in the United States in 2010 was $315 billion.

There are survey papers that provide a wholistic overview of the causes and consequences of obesity. I recommend the latest one which is where I primarily based my answer from Frisvold, 2021

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this! $\endgroup$ Mar 24 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ How about direct cost of eating more food than necessary? Meaning cost of producing food that one doesn't need. $\endgroup$ Mar 24 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @akostadinov I am not sure I follow completely. From an economic perspective we tend to care about externalities, i.e. in this case tax burden on others due to someone else overeating. If a person is obese but poses no burden on the taxpayers i.e. there is no externality generated from his behavior this is of little economic significance, as this is efficient behavior. This would be a job for their doctor to follow up on. So direct cost that individual is incurring is due to their own preference for overeating. $\endgroup$
    – Rumi
    Mar 25 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Rumi, my line of thinking is that if a person didn't spend resources on eating too much, then they could spend these resources on something useful potentially also for the society. But thank you for the reply, I start to understand where economics is disconnected with society well being. $\endgroup$ Mar 25 at 17:02

Besides the fiscal cost, there is probably the obvious health costs simply by being obese. By that I mean, the simple cost of the expense of energy to move the extra weight, the energy required to heat it, and then there is the strain on the body to simply maintain blood flow and nutrients to all of the excess cells.

Then there are additional costs such as:

  • Having to buy larger clothes
  • Using more resources to clean the larger clothes
  • Using more pairs of shoes (because a larger person will wear out a pair of shoes faster than a smaller person, on average)

Then there are emotional costs:

  • Not necessarily being able to participate in certain physical activities which most people would consider 'fun'
  • Potential rejection / judgement from non-obese people
  • Concern for other health issues that typically occur with obesity

So being obese can be expensive even before inquiring about financial health costs. And I have probably overlooked a few things.

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    $\begingroup$ Hi, welcome to Economics:Stack Exchange. Please consider improving the answer by adding references from reputable and scholarly sources. As many other science stacks do, we require formal proofs, statistical evidence or links to external sources for answers making claims which are not common knowledge. Unsourced material can be edited or deleted. For more details see our help center and FAQ on community standards for answers $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Mar 24 at 19:55

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