Intelligent Energy

Obesity gobbles up more than billion gallons of gas in U.S. annually

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Widening waistlines come at a price. Obesity is costing Americans over 1 billion gallons of fuel per year, or nearly US$4 billion annually.

(Image Credit: CalorieLab)

America's portly derrieres might inspire Spanx and culinary abominations like cheeseburger stuffed pizza, but obesity has a high cost. The Federal Transit Administration has found that the nation's excess body fat consumes more than a billion gallons of fuel annually.

That's a conservative estimate. The Atlantic reports that the information source was a 2006 study on obesity and driving habits comparing the average weight of today's population to a 1960's baseline. We've gotten even fatter since the study was commissioned.

At least a quarter of the population of 35 states is now considered clinically obese, up from 21 states when the data was gathered. The most obese states are Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana, respectively.

Environmental costs notwithstanding, it's easy to break the cost down into dollars and cents. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that average cost per gallon of regular gas was US$3.87 last week. So, the cost of obese drivers (and riders) is at least $3.87 billion each year.

A plan to finance the hiring of 100,000 new elementary school teachers nationwide is estimated to cost $12.6 billion over the next seven years. At 2006 levels, obesity will cost greater than $27.10 billion in excess fuel over that same period.

Of course, overeating isn't the only condition that wastes fuel. A recent Texas A&M study found that traffic congestion wastes 3.9 billion gallons of fuel in 2009 alone. However, the Reuters article that I linked to above gave the skinny on some of obesity's other costs.

Here's some more food for thought:

  • The cost of obesity now exceeds the cost of smoking
  • Estimates for medical spending due to obesity have doubled
  • Workers who are obese and refuse to take part in wellness programs could soon pay 30-50% more for their health insurance premiums
  • Employers are less profitable. Overweight men take 5.9 more sick days per year on average, and total absenteeism costs employers over $6.4 billion annually
  • The productivity of obese workers is much lower, costing employers an estimated $30 billion every year
  • Obese workers are less likely to be hired or promoted
  • Average annual medical spending for an obese person is $3,271 compared to $512 for somebody who has a healthy bodyweight
  • Obesity costs the U.S. $190 billion per year in increased medical spending
  • Public transit, stadiums, hospitals, and other facilities are having to retrofit everything from doorways, brakes, seats, to toilets to accomodate growing waistlines
  • An obese man is 64% less likely to commit a crime (it can't all be negative)

Hopefully quantifying the problem increase awareness for better health and wellness. These figures are staggering.

(Image credit: http://www.ladyandtheblog.com)

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure