Obesity Costs More Than You Think

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re living in the midst of an epidemic of childhood obesity. And for that matter, adults aren’t doing so well themselves. A couple years back, I got very interested in this topic, so I did some research, and found the answer.

It’s a little complicated, but not really. Some of it sounds like a conspiracy theory, and some of it is common sense. Some of it you’ll want to hear, and some of it you won’t. Rather than get really deep and heavy into the what’s and why’s, I will simply list a few of the causes and a few simple solutions.

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself what an article on obesity is doing on a website devoted to personal finance. Well… The two are related. I promise.

Before we go any further, I should note that my wife and I have lost quite a bit of weight (60+ combined pounds) over the last year. We’ve completely changed our relationship with food and shopping, and have dramatically improved our health. For more information on our story you can read the testimony of our frugal weight loss mindset.

Why is everyone getting so fat?

Before we go any further, it’s important to consider why people are getting so fat. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the major culprits.

  1. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – Corn farmers grow WAY more corn than they should. Why? The simple answer is because the government pays them to – corn is a heavily subsidized crop. Due to the surplus, corn is very cheap. And because of it’s low cost, it quickly overtook sugar as the main sweetener in commercially produced products. It sweetened and it reduced the bottom line… What could be better? Too bad it’s terrible for us. I stopped eating products with HFCS over a year ago. If you want to lose weight and improve your health, you need to stop eating it, too.
  2. Fast Food – McDonald’s controls way more of our food supply than you would care to know. Because they are more interested in money than health, we end up with a product that is not only unhealthy and nearly void of nutritional value, but also very, very cheap. It’s cheaper to get a double cheeseburger at McDonald’s than it is to buy a head of broccoli. There is just something wrong with that fact. I stopped eating it over a year ago. If you want to lose weight and improve your health, you need to stop eating it, too.
  3. Advertising – If you’ve read any of my past articles, you know that I try to limit the barrage of advertising shoved down my throat on a daily basis. The correlation between television advertising, reduced health, and increased obesity is alarming. Television is probably the largest source of ad bombardment, but there are ads everywhere we turn. I work very hard to limit the amount of advertising I take in. If you want to lose weight and improve your health, you need to stop eating it, too.
  4. Plastics, pesticides, and Teflon – The introduction and excessive use of chemicals in modern American culture also strongly correlates with the decrease in overall health and increase in obesity. Plastics and chemical compounds are everywhere you look, it’s in everything you use. Just try to go a day without using any plastic and you’ll see just how prevalent it is. Research shows these chemicals release endocrine disrupting compounds that can cause an increased resistance to insulin and can damage our genes. I’m switching to cast iron pans, reusable containers, and organic food. If you want to lose weight and improve your health, you should do the same.

What else can we do?

As responsible family members, parents, coworkers, and friends we should do what we can to help ourselves and our loved ones. Be a catalyst for change in your sphere of influence. Don’t talk about the change… BE THE CHANGE. Don’t condemn others for their problematic behavior, start changing your own. If you partake in any of the four items above, then you have a lot you can get started with.

Here are some other things we can do to lead a healthier life and, in many cases, improve our financial well-being at the same time.

  1. Plan ahead – Plan your meals out a week or month ahead of time. Make a shopping list before you go to the store, and base it on your menu. Going on a trip? Pack you meals. If you don’t, you’ll wind up stopping for burgers, fries, and HFCS soda pop.
  2. Drink more water – Don’t drink fruit juices or soda pop – they’re not good for you. Drink water instead, and try to stick to non-fluoridated water (well, distilled, or spring water). Just do your best to avoid bottled water – remember, we’re trying to avoid that pesky plastic!
  3. Eat more organic local food – This is something my wife and I have completely adopted. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be more expensive. We actually spend less money on food now than back when we ate “conventional” food. Save money with our grocery hacks and you won’t go wrong.
  4. Eat less – Quit gorging yourself every time you sit down to eat… Just stinkin’ stop it already! You know you need to, so grow a back bone and just do it already. Quit being lazy, quit looking for a wonder pill, and just stop eating like a hog. One interesting thing to note is that a lot of the heavily processed foods on the market today have addictive agents in them, so it might not be your fault after all. Does that make you mad? Start eating more organic local food.
  5. Turn off the TV – Go spend creative time with loved ones. If you can’t think of anything to do other than watch TV, then you are in bigger trouble than you think, go turn it off. I don’t have much more to say on this topic other than just to say it again. Ditch the TV. Not only will you wind up leading a healthier lifestyle, but you’ll be saving a ton of money on that cable bill.
  6. Get more sleep – This is something I need to do more of myself. Unfortunately, I’m currently working 80+ hrs/week, and don’t really have much choice. All I know is that most people work too much because they drowning in debt. If you had no debt, would you get more sleep? I would… That’s just one more reason why I’m in such a yank to get out of debt!
  7. Grow a garden, preserve the food, and learn to cook – Fifty years ago, things were very different… People still knew where their food came from, how to preserve it, and how to cook it. That’s no longer the case. The only thing we know is that if we need food, we either go out to eat, or we head to Walmart. This needs to change, and that change can start with baby steps… Just make little changes every week and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you and your family adapt, and how happy you’ll be with that change.
  8. Don’t tell your kids, show your kids – Don’t expect your kids to do things that you don’t do. If you want them to be healthier, then you need to be healthier. If you want them to eat better, then you need to eat better. If you want them to be more self-reliant and frugal, then you need to be the catalyst for change. Help them! Sometimes all they need is an example and a little encouragement.

We need to make a change!

Remember… Nobody is going to change things for you, and they shouldn’t have to. It’s time we stopped being so lazy and started taking control. It’s time we stopped living a reactionary life and started living proactively. It’s time for us to stop complaining and start evoking change in our lives and the lives of those we love!

Research has shown that obesity has a dramatic impact on life expectancy. Given how hard you’re working to improve your finances, you want to be around to enjoy the fruits of your labor, don’t you? I know I do!

41 Responses to “Obesity Costs More Than You Think”

  1. Anonymous

    I do 4 of the 7 you mentioned here; doesn’t work as easily as one might think. If no one adds activity to the mix, nothing happens that’s good. So, everyone has to add a little bit of exercise to the mix.

    Of course, there are other things I should be doing that I’m not; maybe one of these days.

  2. Anonymous

    I have to give props to Dawn (comment #35)!

    You are the first person, in the obesity debates I’ve seen, that has taken full responsiblity for your own situation.

    Thanks for being one of the brave few who will stand up for personal responsibility!

  3. Anonymous

    g & LISA (comment 37 & 38), regarding the high-cost of natural foods: Americans spend a relatively small percentage of their income on food. The increase in my monthly food budget for buying organic food is probably less than the cost of cable or satellite TV. Also, when I buy at farmer’s markets, the prices are usually less than or equal to grocery store prices, and the food tastes better to me.

    American food is cheap for the consumer at the grocery store, but much of the cost of production via ‘modern’ industrial agriculture is externalized, and is not reflected in the consumer price.

    Now I’m not advocating a return to the past, because as you correctly point out, life wasn’t all that long in the “good ol’ days”. But I do believe current food methods are unsustainable and unhealthy, and the best way forward is a balance between the traditional and modern.

  4. Anonymous

    you are right, the less chemicals, sugar, fat etc..that commericial foods have, the more they cost, you would think it would be the other way around, It is almost impossible for some americans to eat so-called natural foods, the cost is too high!

  5. Anonymous

    All of the reasons for obesity are rational, until the end with the whole ‘chemical, pesticide, organic’ bullsh*t. 100 years ago we had none of the ‘chemicals’ and people were lucky to live in there 60s. ‘Chemicals’ improve our life. Plastic wrap, even with those dubious cross-linking agents, has probably prevented more deaths due to food poisoning (most notably from diarrhea) THIS WEEK than all the people who were supposedly hurt by ‘chemicals’. I could go on. Good luck with your organic foods – hopefully you can afford them, because poverty more strongly correlates with life span and quality of life than any other factor.

  6. Anonymous

    I’m in agreement with Austin
    I am obese because I eat the wrong foods and too much of them. I see it around me at work and running errands, obese people eat poorly and too much. That is then coupled with a lack of exercise in comparison to their calorie intake.

    Food is energy (calories) and exercise is energy (calories) the two have to match to stay at the same weight and if there is a balance that is off, that causes problems (overweight or underweight)

    Certainly advertising has a place in making us drool over a shrimp dinner and reducing us to a puddle of WANT. Advertising is a science that they are always refining.

    However we have a responsibility to ourselves to make sure we have time to exercise and eat right. Until we suffer the consequences and get a good kick in the face we won’t change it seems.

    my 2¢

  7. Anonymous

    Oh… and also should note that the EPA is more concerned with NATURAL flouride levels. The CDC recommends floride in 0.7 to 1.2 ppm range which is well below the 2 ppm or 4ppm range the EPA looks at.

    “Optimal fluoride levels recommended by the U.S. Public Health Service and CDC for drinking water range from 0.7 parts per million (ppm) for warmer climates to 1.2 ppm for cooler climates to account for the tendency for people to drink more water in warmer climates.”

  8. Anonymous

    “In summary, we hold that fluoridation is an unreasonable risk.” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001

    First I can’t find direct reference to that quote. But I do find that quote attributed to William Hirzy. William Hirzy is/was a VP of the labor union that represents EPA scientists. So if he said that then he was NOT SPEAKING FOR THE EPA but as an employee and on behalf of its union members.

    Here’s a speech from Hirzy: http://epw.senate.gov/107th/hir_0629.htm

    EPA regulates how much floride can be in drinking water. Too much floride could be harmful.

    Straight off EPA.gov:

    “Fluoride. Many communities add fluoride to their drinking water to promote dental health. Each community makes its own decision about whether or not to add fluoride. EPA has set an enforceable drinking water standard for fluoride of 4 mg/L (some people who drink water containing fluoride in excess of this level over many years could get bone disease, including pain and tenderness of the bones). EPA has also set a secondary fluoride standard of 2 mg/L to protect against dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis, in its moderate or severe forms, may result in a brown staining and/or pitting of the permanent teeth. This problem occurs only in developing teeth, before they erupt from the gums. Children under nine should not drink water that has more than 2 mg/L of fluoride.”

  9. Anonymous

    Good point Nickel. Here is a more full version of that quote.

    US EPA Union’s Senior Vice President, Dr. William Hirzy: “In summary, we hold that fluoridation is an unreasonable risk. That is, the toxicity of fluoride is so great and the purported benefits associated with it are so small – if there are any at all – that requiring every man, woman and child in America to ingest it borders on criminal behavior on the part of governments.”

    I am still looking for the original source, but this helps shed a light on the context.

    For everyone else, I can see that emotions are getting stirred up on both sides of the debate, so I will encourage everyone to remain open and calm, and to unbiasedly study both sides of the argument and draw your own intellectual conclusion. Then rest assured in that conclusion.

    One piece of advice… follow the money. Some people have a vested interest in their reporting and others do not. Make sure you understand who is behind each source.


  10. Anonymous

    Sources please. And let them be neutral scientific studies (ie. not funded by HFCS/teflon/McD’s OR by eco-nuts).

    It all comes down to calories. If you take in (eating!) more calories than go out (exercise, poop), you’re going to gain weight. You can balance the equation how ever you like (more exercise, less eating, liposuction, gastric band…) but that’s what it comes down to.

    HFCS and McD’s might have more calories than normal foods but it’s not because they are evil.

  11. Anonymous

    re, #19, That ‘obesity myths’ website from a front group that was originally started and funded by Phillip Morris to argue that smoking isn’t bad for you. Should we really be expected to trust people who were paid to argue smoking isn’t bad?

  12. Matt: I’d love to see the actual source of that EPA quote so I could read it in context. I Googled, but only found secondary sources trumpeting that one small statement, completely in isolation. It’s an unacceptable risk… For what? And did the EPA *really* say that? Just because I see something on the web doesn’t mean that it’s true. Not trying to call you out here — rather, I would honestly like to read what they wrote.

  13. Anonymous

    All those suggestions are fine, but how about the biggest weight loss activity of all time!??


    It’s frugal because it’s free!

    I also agree with Austin (Comment #8) it’s a simple math problem that all PF bloggers should know use more calories than you take in. Very similar to spend less than you earn!

    Your body fat is not out to trick you, it’s not finding devious ways to stay in your body, if you burn more calories than you take in, your body then targets your fat cells.

    Sooooo… put down that jelly donut, turn off the TV and get your running shoes on!

    As for childhoold obesity… whatever happened to going outside to play? I rarely see kids outside anymore. Resist the urge to be a overprotective parent and send them outside.

    Many people will complain… it’s not that simple… yes it is! 1% of all obesity is due to medical conditions, Google it. You’re fat because you choose to be just like you’re broke because you choose to be.

  14. Anonymous

    Also, comment #21 from Making Me A Millionaire is spot on – if you plan on consuming beef or dairy (or chicken and pork) make sure they are raised on healthy grass.

    My wife and I just picked up our 1/4 of grass fed beef a few weeks back – it is delicious and you would not believe how much different the meat is than their pesticide rich, hormone rich, antibiotic rich, corn fed counterparts.

    Remember, you are what you eat. 🙂

  15. Anonymous

    “In summary, we hold that fluoridation is an unreasonable risk.” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2001

    That basically sums up my stance.

    Because it is nearly impossible to provide a convincing argument in a blog post comment, instead I will encourage those who care and are wondering to do further research for themselves… like I did.

    Before I studied fluoride, I held a similar position to everyone else – “it’s good for you.” Well, I found otherwise… and if you look into it, you will too.

    Here are some solid resources. If you care, check them out:

    The Beautiful Truth – a link to the documentary on Netflix for those who don’t like read. 🙂

    Fluoride FAQ’s at FluorideAlert.org

    That outta get you started… happy research.

  16. Anonymous

    Great advice! I’m need to lose about 30 pounds! Next year it’s going to be one of the resolutions that I’m going to blog about.

    There was so much in this post that is great advice in addition to your advice about obesity…

    My favorite was “Don’t tell your kids, show your kids”. I found that to be great advice for all forms of communication with kids.

  17. Anonymous

    I am extremely curious about the relationship between food and money, and how obesity affects our spending habits. As you point out, the two are related very closely.

    I think that as a country and a planet, we broke away from our “natural” roots, where locally grown produce and self-sustaining farming was the norm. Don’t get me wrong–I’m not against progress. But we have to put our foot down when it’s no longer beneficial to continue said progress by making us sicker, no matter what the cost savings.

    In the past 2-3 years, the organic and local market has exploded, or at least the perception is that it has. It’s now much easier to find locally grown stuff and many more companies are doing TRUE “organic” products that are closer to our natural roots.

    I think in the years to come, we’re going to see a big outcry against food manufacturers and a return to home cooking and local markets. It’s already starting.

    But that’s just my perception… 🙂

  18. Anonymous

    Great article. Yes, we Americans are getting fatter and fatter and I don’t believe most who are genuinely care. Sad. Fat, sugar, and salt are killing more of us than any terrorists could and we simply continue stuffing ourselves. For those interested in how food manufacturers are killing us, I suggest a book called “The End of Overeating.”

  19. Anonymous

    Fern, what about wax paper or aluminum foil (tin foil as we refer to it in the South, properly pronounced as “ten full”)? Both can be used to wrap items that will stay fresh for half a day and can readily be reused and recycled. As for leftover type foods, that’s a dilemma. I tend to use sturdy glassware. It’s heavier, but I don’t have the breakage problems because pyrex is thick stuff. But maybe someone will come up with a workable solution.

  20. Anonymous

    I keep fresh food available. I realize this is time consuming for many people though cause it requires more frequent trips to the grocery store. But I make sure the fresh food is ready to eat. In other words if I wash, de-cap and slice the strawberries and store them in a container they will be more consumable. Same with other fruits and vegetables – make it easy to grab and go with them, just like its easy to grab and go with potato chips.

    I can’t quit fast food – some of it I gotta have. But I try to limit it to once a week and I make sure I pick good stuff. If I’m gonna have a hamburger its coming from Five Guys, not McDonalds. Five Guys has better fries, too, if that’s possible, than McDs. I’m fairly certain that Five Guys uses fresher, more healthful ingredients. Its still junk food, but at least it isn’t full of preservatives, too.

    What most people don’t understand is it is ok to splurge on occasion. But that doesn’t mean eating a whole box of cookies. Have one cookie, save the others for later, they’ll still be there tomorrow.

  21. Anonymous

    I’m trying to figure out how to carry lunch a well-planned lunch to work on public transportation without using plastic. I’ve not seen waxed paper bags for sandwiches, for example, in a decade. And what would I freeze huge batches of soup in? Items that have great tight lids, can be frozen or microwaved, and don’t shatter if dropped all seem to be plastic.

    The frozen organic veggies and fruits I eat over the winter, whether I froze them or bought them, are encased in plastic bags.

    Tis a bit of a problem.

    Frondly, Fern

  22. Anonymous

    I think another contributing factor may be that more people now work in sedentary jobs. So many of us sit at a desk all day in front of a computer (guilty!) rather than working in a job that requires physical activity.

  23. Anonymous

    I contend that the ever-expanding work week also contributes to ever-expanding waistlines. I know that I am much more likely to plan meals and cook when I’m not working crazy hours. When it is busy at work, the first slip is that I can’t get home to cook what I planned. Next, I don’t have enough energy on the days I do get home. Then, I realize I’m wasting food, and the trips to the grocery store get cut to spend that time doing other chores. Finally, I’m eating out all the time because I have no groceries. Then I get to a point where I tell work my life is suffering, and I can make time to plan and cook…but the cycle always starts again!

  24. Anonymous

    Another problem with HFCS is diabetes. When I was growing up everything was sweetened with cane sugar. I don’t remember knowing anyone with type 2 diabetes. Now we have our children developing type 2 diabetes at alarming rates. HFCS may be making our cells more resistant to insulin, and it is in everything! The only way to stop commercially produced products from using HFCS is for all of us to stop buying them.
    Not to change the subject… all of the obese comsumers are costing us a lot more in insurance premiums. In fact, a lot of consumers receiving government assistance, which we pay for, are obese and are being rewarded for it. If they lost the weight, the diabetes, hypertension and other health problems would dramatically improve and they would lose their benefits. So most just gain more weight and refuse to take their medications, so they can continue to receive assistance.
    There needs to be some accountability. Maybe their caseworker could check in monthly with the primary care physician. If the comsumer is not following a diet plan and/or refusing to take the medications, they receive for free, they would lose their government benefits. On the other hand, if they start losing the weight and getting healthier, most won’t need the assistance and be healthy enough to work. It would be a win-win situation. It would save us millions!!

  25. Anonymous

    Turning off the TV is huge. Every third commercial is about food and usually of the worst kinds (soft drinks, fast food and rich desserts).

    The Food Network is the worst of all. They show gourmet food that we have neither the time or inclination to prepare, yet when we go to the fridge there’s nothing we can eat that will satisfy the urge we have for what we just saw on TV.

    It’s so hard to avoid eating when you’re being bombarded by messages telling you to eat.

    Just my opinion, but the surge in obesity – which is unique to our time – parallels the development of TV as a central element of modern life. Coincidence? I truly doubt it.

  26. Anonymous

    To me, the cause of obesity is simply energy imbalance. We take in far more food energy (calories) than we use (via work or exercise). If you’ve ever honestly accounted for all of the calories you consume in a day, you will be surprised.

    Now, WHY we consume too many calories is pretty much in line with American society today: “I want it all, I want it right now, and I’ll pay for it later”

  27. Anonymous

    sir jorge, I challenge you to provide proof of the “proof” that organic food is NOT healthier than conventional food. Aside from the fact that “proving” ANYTHING is “healthier” is quite difficult, I also suggest you investigate who funded such “research”.

  28. Anonymous

    organics and locally grown items have been proven time and again to not be any healthier for you than others, yet people keep recommending them; i guess it’s a good placebo

  29. Anonymous

    First off, are we suppose to ingest fluoride? Or just get it on our teeth a lot. If it’s the latter, why not just use a fluoride rinse? I do believe this helps, because as a child, at my school they made us ‘swish’ once a week with fluoride, and I very rarely have cavities now. My husband on the other hand, did not recieve this benefit, and the poor guy has all kinds of problems.

    Oh, and another quick tip for maintaining or losing weight,switch your dishes to smaller dishes (salad plates and bowls vs. full size dinner plates and bowls that hold 3-4 cups). It’s a very sneaky way to get everyone in the house to eat less, and it works.

  30. Mike: You are correct, this is an article by Matt. I forgot to change the byline when scheduling it for publication, but I’ve fixed it now. Thanks!

    Tom: I’ll let Matt respond to your question about his statement on fluoridated water, because I’m not sure of his reasoning. A bit of Googling, however, reveals that there is some evidence that fluoride affects thyroid function, which could in turn affect obesity. It seem that the argument is that we now get fluoride from a variety of sources (or at least most of us do), so it’s not necessary to fortify water with it.

  31. Anonymous

    I usually read your blog on my RSS reader which is good because on there, I only see two advertisements. I counted 14 ads on your actual site around this post. Interesting that there are so many advertisements on your site where you list ads as a major culprit of causing obesity.

    I enjoy reading your blog and use some of the tips you write about. I just wanted to point out the hypocrisy I see in the amount of advertising you allow on your site. I understand you make some money by having the ads, but if you are preaching less advertising, shouldn’t you be practicing it as well?

  32. Anonymous

    I enjoy your blog quite a bit – this is the first time I’ve ever felt compelled to comment. But why are you recommending that people avoid fluoridated water? Along with vaccination, widespread fluoridation of public water systems is one of the greatest public health successes of modern times.

    Obesity does cost a lot, but so does dental care.

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