The Cost of Obesity Is Weighing Us Down
July 20, 2012
by Natasha Chen
News Channel 3, Memphis
Memphis recently ranked the “fattest” city in the U.S., Memphis has one of the highest rates of obesity. But the problem is not limited to people’s health. It’s also weighing down on our wallets.
Because of all the health complications that come with being obese, doctors’ visits and medication are obvious expenses.
But the cost goes beyond death, even to the funeral home where an obese person’s family is left paying a much bigger bill.
The health care system, the premiums we pay, and taxpayer dollars are all affected.
A study by the Trust for America's Health found the U.S. could save $29 billion in health care savings in five years, if we could all lower the obesity rate by just five percent.
Sarina Freeman has felt some of these costs first-hand. “My asthma was so severe that I ended up in the hospital two times by ambulance.”
She lost 150 pounds after having gastric bypass surgery by Dr. George Woodman at Midsouth Bariatrics.
Before surgery, she was a size 26 and could not walk to the mailbox without losing her breath.
The surgery was $27,000, and she obtained a loan to do it.
But Freeman said it was worth every penny.
She said she would have spent more than that had she stayed obese, starting with the cost of a possible liver transplant.
Freeman felt the need to take action, thinking about her family.
“You don’t want to leave them with putting you in the grave,” she said.
The funeral home industry is familiar with that cost.
A bigger casket and bigger vault can run an extra $800. Then the cemetery may charge up to $2,000 more to have two grave sites.
Tandy Anthony, the owner of the Anthony Funeral Home in West Memphis, Ark., explained the unfortunate cost of an already difficult process, “Those are the things that we as funeral directors will explain to our families.”
The Anthony’s don’t want to charge more, but material costs require the higher price tag.
Anthony said more requests for larger caskets have come in over the years, and that the community needs to be educated.
That’s where Willeen Hastings comes in. She’s the director of the Memphis Health Center, the oldest federally funded clinic in Memphis.
The clinic serves many uninsured and underinsured members of the community.
The doctors there, including the pediatrician, have seen much higher rates of obesity and asthma in the last decade.
“Our people perish for a lack of knowledge,” Hastings said. “People that are lower on the socio-economic scale and less than a high school education have a higher incidence of obesity.”
That’s 40 percent of the clinic’s patients. Since they are federally funded, a lot of that cost falls back on the taxpayer.
At Methodist University Hospital, larger equipment has been necessary to accommodate larger patients over the years.
They have purchased bigger sized beds, jumbo wheelchairs, and even a special lift machine to get larger patients out of a bed.
Those costs fall on the hospital and the health care system, which can trickle down to all patients’ co-pay or premium costs.
“If they have young children, you want to see them get married. You want to see them graduate high school. You want to see them raise their family,” said Sarina Freeman.
The following local programs are trying to help people fight obesity. Some events have passed, but you can learn more from the organizations:
View the full story (some sites require registration)