Obese And Smokers Cheaper For Society To Treat

A new study shows that overweight people and smokers aren’t actually the big drain on the health care system we’ve thought them to be. Actually, it’s the skinny healthy people! Reports the AP:

The researchers found that from age 20 to 56, obese people racked up the most expensive health costs. But because both the smokers and the obese people died sooner than the healthy group, it cost less to treat them in the long run.

Emphasis added. Should society being try to help out those addicted to food and cigarettes? Yes, but we shouldn’t do it because we think we’re saving money.

Fat People Cheaper to Treat, Study Says [AP] (Thanks to C-side!)
(Photo: Getty)


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  1. sketchy says:

    A myriad of studies in the past have shown that smokers die younger and more quickly, on average, than other people, creating a net benefit economically. Fat people, on the other hand, use up way more resources while still alive – food, transportation, wear and tear on everything, more space on airplanes, more fuel, etc…. A fat smoker might be a wash, but a healthy, skinny person who has a massive, deadly stroke at age 65 – perfect.

  2. Jetfire says:

    “Lung cancer is a cheap disease to treat because people don’t survive very long”

    Does dying count as treating it then?

  3. ChewySquirrel says:

    @Jetfire: Yup, Problem’s solved. All your cells are dead, including the cancer cells!

  4. smitty1123 says:

    Help whomever you want, just don’t expect me to pay for it.

  5. ShadowFalls says:

    This just in:

    Health insurance companies now cover twinkies and pizza delivery.

  6. BStu says:

    @sketchy: You try to use science to back up your position on smoking, but then resort to pure demagoguery when it comes to fat people. You really think anyone has studied how much “wear and tear on everything” is caused by all those fatties?

    Here’s the thing, while studies have shown that fat people, on average, die sooner than thin people, its not by much. Also, coexisting factors are rarely considered that might mitigate even that minor impact. Weight cycling has been shown to be independently unhealthy, for instance. As has social pressure and discrimination. Furthermore, there is little beyond conjecture that shows fat people are a drain on the health care system beyond costs involved in trying to make fat people into not fat people. If a study wants to show the costs associated with treating fat people, then it should control for the costs associated with trying to make them lose weight. Because if we weren’t doing that, what do fat people REALLY cost. “Look how much it costs to try to make you lose weight! Why don’t you try to lose weight to save us money?” makes no sense at all, but I wonder if that’s what many of these studies actually say when they talk of the expense in treating fat people.

  7. deweydecimated says:

    Hmmm, I expected to see that this McStudy was funded by RJ Reynolds.

  8. Bungus Aurelius says:

    I’d be more interested in seeing data on the same three groups showing inflow in addition to just costs to the system. I.e., what is each person putting in the system along with what they’re taking out? Inflow would be different in different systems – single payer, insurance-based, etc. – but net finances would be a lot more meaningful than just the expenses for care. Is the healthy person putting more money in the system over the same time period?

  9. If you read the actual study, you realize two things:
    They used a markov chain model, which isn’t really that appropriate.
    They didn’t factor in all the relevant stuff.

    Something not factored: Timing of costs. They did factor the time cost of money. Sort of. But, let’s say I hit my peak of health cost when I’m 56 as they suggest obese people do. That’s in my working years. There’s bound to be a productivity effect. My company (in my case the Fed Government) gets less productivity, as I max out my sick days, and produce nothing. If I were in industry, even worse, as my time would mean something to someone. My productivity hurts profits. Profits link tax revenue for my government. My government clearly has an interest (regardless of rhetoric to the contrary) to maximize tax revenue under any given set of tax laws.

    If I’m 56 and I drop dead from a lifetime of Marlboro Country, even worse. Government saves on social security and medicaid/medicare, but loses 10-20 years of productivity, my highest paid years, and therefore a lot of tax revenue. Far better if I make it to retirement, then croak. Like skinny non-smokers.

    Not factored into the study, but considering the lifetime net tax payment difference between the obese, the smokers, the smoking obese and the skinny non-smokers might be a useful bit of info to put into the study. So as a government might maximize it’s investment accordingly.

  10. smitty1123 says:

    @nicomacus: Hmmm, interesting question, particularly where taxes are concerned. Most of the cost of a pack of cigs is sin tax and fat people obviously have to buy more food than skinny people (and food isn’t cheap). So, if fat smokers use more public health resources, is that potentially offset by their paying more taxes into the system?

  11. Zyada says:

    I wrote this several years ago, which anticipated this particular problem.

  12. magic8ball says:

    Is anyone else remembering an Eastern European billboard ad encouraging smoking, because it makes you die sooner, thereby benefiting … society? Something?

  13. karmaghost says:

    I thought that was kinda funny; they’re cheaper because they die sooner. I don’t want smoking banned in public places because it’s bad for you, I want it banned because it’s bad for me.

  14. mac-phisto says:

    “If we’re going to worry about the future of obesity, we should stop worrying about its financial impact,” [Patrick Basham, a professor of health politics at Johns Hopkins University] said.

    to me, that’s the most important part of the article & the study as a whole. as insurance companies rush to raise rates & drop customers at the slightest offense, while government spends countless hours banning unhealthy foods & regulating every aspect of our life, everyone misses the point – healthy is good.

    using balance sheets & earnings estimates is not the way to go about teaching health & nutrition. neither is instilling FUD.

  15. goodkitty says:

    Sweet. Lets do like “Logan’s Run” and give people all the McDonald’s they can eat, free cigs for everyone over the age of 8, segway everywhere further than 5 steps away, and all-you-can use healthcare.

    The kicker? You’re recycled into Soylent Green at age 40. See that thing flashing on your hand? Yeah… it’s that time. GET IN MAH BELLEH!

    Look mom, I just solved the heath care crisis, world hunger, AND saved social security all at once!

  16. Feminist Whore says:

    Awesome. I’m 2 for 2. You’re welcome, society.

  17. kenblakely says:

    @BStu: “…there is little beyond conjecture that shows fat people are a drain on the health care system beyond costs involved in trying to make fat people into not fat people.” That’s simply not true. Ask any hospital administrator how much money his organization has spent on processes, training, equipment and supplies >>specifically<< for fat people: chairs, beds, linens, bariatric training, stronger nurses, overhead slings, heavier-duty ambulances, wider hallways, the list is long. I donno what the figure will be, but it’s guaranteed to be nonzero, and that’s a drain, full stop.

  18. KJones says:

    That’s the same argument used to give women smaller social security cheques than men: “You’re getting the same amount over your lifetime!”

    One shouldn’t be penalized or discriminated against for being healthy and living longer.

  19. ShariC says:

    I think that life should not be valued based on how expensive it is and addictions should not be an excuse for refusing to treat anyone as having a life more valuable than anyone else’s.

    These sort of surveys and articles are chilling as they show how little we value human life as compared to getting our financial slice of the pie from society. We care more about getting the same size or bigger piece of that pie than we care about other people.

    I don’t care how much it costs to care for people or whether they are fat, smoke, depressed, anorexic, or use drugs. I can’t be so petty as to measure the cost of people with problems in this fashion.

  20. alice_bunnie says:

    for fat people: chairs, beds, linens, bariatric training, stronger nurses, overhead slings, heavier-duty ambulances, wider hallways,

    And, here I would like to point out, you’re not talking about overweight or just obese people here. You’re talking about the super obese. A vast majority of generalizations about obese people mention these things and they aren’t necessary for regular obese people. For someone to be considered obese, they weigh 20% over their ideal weight. A 5’4″ woman’s top ideal weight 150, so she’s obese at 180. You don’t need special wheel chairs, toilet seats and ambulances for even twice 150lbs.

  21. fredsanford says:

    @KJones: By law, the Social Security Administration cannot take gender into consideration when calculating benefits, so women and men with identical work histories and earnings receive identical benefits. However, women typically live longer than men and thus receive benefits for a longer period of time. At age 65, for example, women can expect to live another 19.2 years, compared to 16.3 years for men.

  22. angryrider says:

    If they die faster, they’ll be cheaper to take care. If it’s cheaper= profit!
    Only in America can we profit of the health of people.
    You know what, companies should profit off our safety. Insurance= protection from crime!

  23. shan6 says:

    @angryrider: Wait, wait. You just equated insurance companies to the mafia…I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE!! High Five!

  24. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    …fat people obviously have to buy more food than skinny people…

    @smitty1123: Wrong. You don’t have to buy more food as long as you’re buying bad food.

  25. whydidnt says:

    @angryrider: Except this was a “DUTCH” study, not a US one. Your anger is mis-directed, angryrider.

  26. ogman says:

    Healthy people must die! They are a drain on the system!

  27. Whitey Fisk says:

    Once we’ve handed over responsibility for our own health care to the government, they’ll think of all sorts of crazy reasons not to treat us. Fat, skinny, whatever…it doesn’t feckin’ matter.

    Good luck at the polls, folks!

  28. ogman says:

    @ShariC: Amen! However, there is definite value in encouraging people to develop a healthier lifestyle.

  29. timsgm1418 says:

    the problem is “good” food is more expensive than the bad food, walk down the produce aisle and the meat aisle. generally that’s why poorer people are heavier. Carbs are cheap and filling@Rectilinear Propagation:

  30. deadlizard says:

    So all we have to do to save Social Security is hand over cigarettes to baby boomers. Maybe we should bring back those commercials with Lucile Ball selling Lucky Strikes.

  31. ogman says:

    @deadlizard: That’s not very forward looking. Additionally, we should encourage young people to start smoking heavily at an earlier age. That way, they will die long before they ever need to even think about drawing Social Security or Medicare.

  32. ogman says:

    @Jetfire: It’s the most cost effective treatment there is. Ain’t economics great. Economists should rule the world! Long live Friedman!

  33. daniinpa says:

    @smitty1123: Obese people do not eat more than thin people.

    @timsgm1418: It is true that healthy foods are more expensive than junk food, but I don’t know how you can conclude that this is why poor people are heavier. There are so many other possible explanations. Fat people are discriminated against in the workforce, so perhaps fat people are poorer because they are discriminated against.

    Another possibility: body weight is mostly inherited, and certain populations tend to be heavier than others, i.e. blacks, hispanics, native populations, etc. Due to factors completely unrelated to fat, these same groups also tend to be poorer.

  34. forever_knight says:

    @BStu: show me where fat people don’t die much sooner than skinny people.

    AND show me an “obese” 95 year old and i’ll eat my dirty socks. you won’t be able to find one because all the fatties die before they get that old.

  35. forever_knight says:

    @daniinpa: “@smitty1123: Obese people do not eat more than thin people.”

    this makes no sense. unless you are making this a semantic argument of quantity of food vs. caloric density of food.

  36. Benstein says:

    Society should mind there own frackin business and let people eat, smoke, and drink whatever the hell they want. People should be responsible for there own actions. Maybe I don’t want to live until 90 and be a drain on my kids? GTFO of my house please… kthxbye.

  37. @angryrider: #1 Dutch Study. So, not only in America.
    #2 Dutch Study means socialized health system. No profits.

    Not saying you’re wrong, just on this particular study.

  38. @ogman: It’s more a question of population volume. The critics on SS suggest that 3 payers to 1 payee is a problem. So, we need to normalize all generations to the smallest population. Long life for Gen X, boomers and millenials, you gotta smoke and eat carbs.

  39. @daniinpa: Nice try. Poor people generally work jobs requiring physical labor. And they eat crap food. If you’re suggesting that blacks are naturally fatter than whites, you need to read up on your history. Try Gary Taubes.

  40. bbbici says:

    Yup, it’s true, smokers and fatties are good for the (growth) economy, sad as this seems.

    And healthy foods are not more expensive than junk food. That is bunk. Yeah, maybe if you’re an idiot who buys organic everything, and out-of-season produce, and don’t like beans and peanut butter, etc.

  41. ogman says:

    @bbbici: You are absolutely right. I can easily fix a healthy meal for four on $8.00 or less, about the same as it would take me to feed junk food to two people. I think more of the problem lies in the fact that most people cannot or do not want to take the time to shop for the food and prepare it. The blame for that can be distributed according to your personal outlook. Some will say you have to make time, others will say we have to work too long to have the time.

  42. ogman says:

    @PotKettleBlack: Really, I was just kidding. I agree that part of the question/problem is population volume, but that’s not all of it.

    We live in a very ageist society that wants to push middle-aged and older people out of the workforce, where they could provide for themselves. At the same time, we demand that they find a way to avoid being “a drain on the system.” Meanwhile, other problems like concentration of wealth, lack of job growth, etc. are setting the stage for a resource battle that will ultimately harm our society as a whole. Let’s hope something changes, but I’m not all that optimistic.

    One more thing (unrelated to your post); I just had displeasure of being taught, in one of my grad school classes, that smoking is a diversity issue. Yeah, the school wants to ban smoking and several faculty are trying block the move because they believe that the rights of smokers are being violated. When I disagreed, I was told that I just didn’t understand smokers. When I mentioned that I had been a smoker, I was told that I was prejudiced because I quit. Now, however, I see the light. Smoking should be encouraged so that the poor victims of this terrible persecution will be put out of their misery much sooner.

  43. foxbat2500 says:

    So the message is die young, fat, and with a big cigar???

  44. TWSS says:

    @foxbat2500: Only if you’re Dutch.

    What a lapse of journalistic integrity that this is cited as relevant to the US healthcare system. As other commenters have pointed out, this is a DUTCH study. Holland’s healthcare system is a public-private partnership.

  45. Pinget says:

    “On average, healthy people lived 84 years. Smokers lived about 77 years, and obese people lived about 80 years.”

    So, don’t smoke, eat what you wish, live to 80 and not die of some lingering, wasting disease? Done and done. Sounds good to me.

  46. peggynature says:

    Newsflash: if fat people are “addicted” to food, then so is everyone.

    Try going a couple of days without.

  47. alhypo says:

    I’ve never used drugs in my life, but once I hit 70 or 80, depending on how healthy I am, all bets are off. I’ll start using them like there’s no tomorrow… because there isn’t.

    Then, once I’m ready, I’ll do myself in with a pleasant overdose. I won’t have to suffer through needless body-part replacements and everyone else won’t have to pay for them. Everyone wins!

    Also, if I start going insane or whatever, I will surely expedite this process while I still have volition.

    Illicit drugs are wasted on the young.

  48. BrienBear Thinks Stupidity Defies Logic says:

    @Pinget: So, don’t smoke, eat what you wish, live to 80 and not die of some lingering, wasting disease? Done and done. Sounds good to me.

    For realz! Its not like I have any reason to stay alive til 80 anyway! Whats the point in that? What, live til I can’t walk, can barely talk, and am miserable. And a drain on the taxpayers! (I’m gay so no kids to support me. That means I’ll have to use up the taxpayers money to continue to take care of me..)

    I wanna die when I’m 50ish, happy, and still have my facilities! And still be able to eat what I want!