True cost of health risks: $170 per pound overweight, $150 per cigarette pack

4521535277_6b4b1f27b5_b-232x300In an effort to understand how much we should allocate to disease prevention and health promotion, researchers have been striving to figure out the real dollar costs of poor health behavior.

Angel Lopez Nicolas and associates at the Polytechnic University of Cartagena in Spain ran the numbers for a pack of cigarettes. “Given that tobacco consumption raises the risk of death in comparison with non-smokers,” Dr. Nicolas contends, “it can be assigned a premature death cost for people who smoke.” So how much do Dr. Nicholas and his colleagues estimate is the true cost of a pack of cigarettes?

$150 for men, $104 for women. They believe this contributes to an argument that people smoke not because smoker's enjoyment outweighs the costs to the smoker, but because smokers are addicted, and fail to understand the true costs of their habit.

Eric Finkelstein and colleagues at the Duke-International University of Singapore, meanwhile, contribute with a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine quantifying the cost of obesity based on employee medical expenditures, lost productivity and absenteeism at work due to obesity-related health conditions.  Their conclusion:

  • Overall, obesity costs the US economy $73 billion.
  • Per capita that amounts to $16,900 for women who are roughly 100 pounds overweight, and $15,500 for men.
  • That’s  nearly $170 for each pound overweight.

As one might assume, the heaviest cost us the most, even though they represent a relatively small percentage of the population. The heaviest 37% of obese individuals, for example, account for 61% of costs. And any relationships are not linear: In other words being 100 pounds overweight is likely to be far more than 10 times riskier (or more costly) than being 10 pounds overweight.

Beyond the shock value of the high dollar figures, and possible fodder for politically leveraging additional public health funding, do you find value in such estimates? Is putting a dollar figure on obesity, for example, more potent or practical than associating some human cost, such as increased likelihood off death or disease?

Weigh in with your opinion, because I’m on the fence on this one.