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Being overweight is dangerous to your wealth

As you reach for a few more Christmas cookies or down another eggnog, you might be thinking about what those extra calories will do to your health.

But have you considered what they will do to your wealth? The sugar and fat will add pounds, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and a shortened life span.

There is another consequence to packing on extra weight: Being fat costs money - tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Heavy people do not spend more on food itself, but their life insurance premiums are two to four times as large. They can expect higher medical expenses, and they tend to make less money and accumulate less wealth in their shortened lifetimes. They can have a harder time getting hired and, once on the job, a harder time winning plum assignments and promotions.

We're not talking here about people who are merely chubby, carrying a few extra pounds, or only those who are truly enormous in their dimensions, either. People carrying an extra 30 to 40 pounds can be affected.

"Being overweight can be dangerous to your wealth," said Jay L. Zagorsky, an economist at Ohio State University who has looked at the relationship between various economic and sociological factors and a measure of obesity called the body mass index. Doctors use the index to determine whether a person is merely overweight or dangerously obese.

The obese suffer from heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis and joint problems, liver disease, and sleep apnea.

Complications from obesity, particularly diabetes, which afflicts 21-million Americans, push up the bill: $44,000 for a heart attack, $40,200 for a stroke or $37,000 for end-state kidney disease, estimates Judith O'Brien, the director of cost research at the Caro Research Institute, a health costs consulting firm. Amputating just a toe, a consequence of untreated diabetes, averages $15,000, she estimates.

Academics have not spent much time calculating what that care costs the overweight individual. Instead, they look at what obesity costs society or insurers. The sum usually arrived at is about $80-billion a year and is steadily growing. The government or insurers pay about 85 percent of that.

Discrimination

While the health problems ravage savings, an overweight person may have difficulty accumulating a nest egg in the first place. One of the earliest sociological studies of the overweight, in 1966, found that the heaviest students had a harder time getting into top colleges.

More recent studies have found that the obese, particularly white women, are paid less. A study by John H. Cawley, an associate professor of human ecology at Cornell University, found that an increase in weight of 64 pounds above the average for white women was associated with 9 percent lower wages.

Evidence from decades of discrimination studies has led Mark V. Roehling, an associate professor at the School of Labor and Industrial Relations at Michigan State University, to the conclusion that there is "consistent evidence of weight discrimination."

One factor is that some employers do not want to be burdened with higher health insurance costs. Other times it is a matter of appearances or a belief that "people of size," as Roehling terms the obese, are lazy, weak-willed or considered too unattractive to interact with customers. He has found that some employers are up front about it, even in Michigan, which is the only state that outlaws weight discrimination.

The end result? The obese accumulate only about half the assets of the normal-sized American, said Zagorsky, the Ohio State University research scientist. He matched BMI and wealth data in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a multiyear sampling by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and found that for every one-point increase in the index, net worth dropped by $1,000. The typical female baby boomer, he said, earned $313.70 less annually for every one-point increase in her BMI, while the typical male earned $161.30 less for every point.

FAST FACTS

What's yourBMI?

Divide your weight in pounds by the square of your height in inches. Multiply that number by 703.

-Under 18.5 is considered underweight.

-18.5 to 24.0 is normal.

-25 to 29.9 is overweight.

-30 and above is obese.

The index has been criticized for its inability to distinguish between a well-muscled person and a fat one. Nevertheless, it is by this measure that academics estimate that about a third of Americans, or 97-million, are obese.

Source: www.nhlbisupport. com/bmi, New York Times

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