(NaturalNews) Forget the budget battles in Washington, D.C., although those are important. Want to know what one of the biggest issues is - literally - behind the bankrupting of our country?
Obesity. No, we're not kidding.
In fact, new analyses of data surrounding obesity reveal that it is costing the nation twice as much in medical bills as previously thought - even more than smoking.
How bad is the problem? Because of obesity, cars burn a billion gallons more of fuel a year than if we, as a nation, still averaged what we weighed in 1960. Hospitals, Reuters reports, are removing wall-mounted toilets in favor of "load-bearing" floor models. And the Federal Transit Administration is looking at testing buses for the impact of heavier riders on steering and breaking.
But perhaps the biggest cost to the nation is in terms of healthcare spending, which has been rising exponentially and which climbed another 5.8 percent in 2011, according to Standard & Poor's Financial Services.
Laws, policy changes coming to address the problem?
Some costs are neutral, such as larger seats in sports arenas and in public places. But most are not; they are what are known as higher health insurance premiums and higher taxpayer-supported healthcare costs in the form of Medicare and Medicaid expenditures. And all at a time of shrinking budgets and skyrocketing government debt.
The rising costs of obesity, which are increasingly being borne by the non-obese, could become the well-documented epidemic's second-hand smoke, according to Reuters. Only when doctors and researchers learned that it, too, was causing lung cancer, did policymakers respond.
Well, for obesity and the economic impact it is having on American society, that "second-hand smoke" moment has arrived.
"As committee chairmen, Cabinet secretaries, the head of Medicare and health officials see these really high costs, they are more interested in knowing, 'what policy knob can I turn to stop this hemorrhage?'" Michael O'Grady of the National Opinion Research Center told Reuters. O'Grady is the author of a new report called the Campaign to End Obesity, "which brings together representatives from business, academia and the public health community to work with policymakers on the issue," the Newswire reported.
In fact, they have already begun to turn the policy knob. President Obama's signature 2010 healthcare reform law contains a provision that allows employers to charge obese workers 30-50 percent more in premiums, if they are not involved in some sort of wellness (exercise?) program. Even if the law does not survive the Supreme Court intact, obesity will continue to drive healthcare costs upward, forcing lawmakers and policy wonks to devise ways to trim their healthcare expenditures, at the public's behest.
Nothing new to see here, folks
The epidemic that is obesity is well-documented and stretches back for years. In fact, it trends remarkably close to the dramatic rise of fast and processed foods in the country.
Since 1960, the percentage of Americans who are considered obese - those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 percent or higher - has tripled to 34 percent. Cases of "morbid" obesity - those with BMIs of 40 percent or higher - has increased sixfold. Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans considered "overweight" (BMIs of 25-29.9 percent) has generally held steady, but that percentage, say experts, is still too high.
It's really not an equation that is hard to figure out. As waistlines increase, so, too, to the incidents of medical problems - heart trouble, diabetes, high blood pressure, to name a few - that go along with obesity. More obese people mean more medical problems which means more healthcare expenditures.
Besides raising insurance costs for employers, workers who are obese miss more days on the job - overweight men take 5.9 more sick days a year and women take 9.4 more sick days per year, on average.
Even when they are at work, obese employees are generally not as productive, which costs companies even more.
"The very obese lose one month of productive work per year, costing employers an average of $3,792 per very obese male worker and $3,037 per female. Total annual cost [...] due to obesity: $30 billion," said Reuters.
The bottom line is this - without a fitness and food preparation renaissance, this nation will eat itself into the economic abyss, as more and more obese Americans drain the remaining, and dwindling, healthcare resources from the rest of us.