Obesity is linked to higher rates of bankruptcy, according to a new study

We’ve been told for years about the negative impacts and risks of obesity in America. However, a recent study looking at more than 3,000 US counties found an unexpected risk associated with obesity: bankruptcy.

The study, led by economics professor Masanori Kuroki, intended to take a look at the financial stresses individuals with obesity experience in the United States, due to heightened medical costs.

“Given the extent of the obesity epidemic facing the United States, the economic costs of obesity have been one of the most important topics in public health,” Kuroki said. “This paper uses the bankruptcy rate as a proxy for financial distress and makes use of county-level data to comprehensively add to the literature on the economic costs of obesity.”

There is certainly a cause for concern when it comes to the medical costs of those struggling with obesity. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that people who have obesity are at increased risk for many serious diseases and health conditions. This includes high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and many types of cancers, to name a few.

The CDC also reported that in 2008, obesity-related medical care costs in the US totaled an estimated $147 billion. Based on inflation, that equals almost $177 billion in today’s dollars.

To research his theory, Kuroki compared data from 3,125 counties on obesity rates between 2004 and 2016 with bankruptcy rates between 2005 and 2017. He found that counties with higher rates of obesity also had higher rates of bankruptcy.

“A one-percentage-point increase in the obesity rate is associated with a 0.02-0.03 increase (or a 1.0 percent increase) in Chapter 7 bankruptcy rates per 1,000 residents and a 0.02-0.04 increase (or a 3-4 percent increase) in Chapter 13 bankruptcy rates per 1,000 residents,” Kuroki said.

There may be more to the story, though. Is obesity really leading to financial distress? Or is it the other way around?

A 2016 study from the University of Michigan revealed that as poverty rates increase, so do obesity rates — specifically among children.

Lower income neighborhoods are less likely to have access to resources such as recreational programs, parks, and health food stores. This means, children are getting less physical activity and their parents are resorting to feeding them less nutritious food, because it’s what they can afford. All of these factors contribute to an increased risk of childhood obesity, the authors said.

“The findings reveal differences in the inequalities in the physical and social environment in which children are raised,” study author and cardiologist Kim A. Eagle, M.D., said.

Not only are poverty levels affecting children, but there is a 70 percent chance that children who experience obesity will remain overweight or obese in adulthood. So, they are carrying those health risks with them, which continues to perpetuate the financial burden on their lives.

Eagle said the only way to affect real change when it comes to the obesity epidemic in America is to focus on creating better resources for these lower income neighborhoods.

“Ultimately, bottom-up neighborhood, school, and community engagement and education, and top-down legislative actions that will support healthier choices for adults and children, are needed to battle this health crisis,” Eagle said.