We all know that we should live healthy lives, even though sometimes it’s easier not to. But research shows there’s an added incentive: Losing weight can lead to a healthier bank account.
Instead of viewing health as a cost, you should see it as an investment, says Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA.
“When you’re actually doing things to maintain or improve your health, you’re actually potentially saving significant amounts of money,” says Lee, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center (GOPC) and an associate professor of International Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Lee is one of the authors of a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study that suggests weight loss at any age leads to cost savings. The study found that it’s costly when people are overweight – especially as they age.
According to the study:
- A 20-year-old adult who goes from obese to overweight would save an average of $17,655 in direct medical costs and productivity losses over their lifetime. If that person went from obese to a healthy weight, the savings would jump to $28,020.
- If a 40-year-old adult goes from being obese to overweight, that person potentially can save an average of $18,262. If that person improves their health from obese to a healthy weight, an average savings of $31,447 in direct medical costs and productivity losses can follow.
Losing weight can save at nearly any age
Cost savings peak at age 50, according to the study. At that age, there was an average total savings of $36,278. Lee says the study found that at nearly any age there can be cost savings.
“Sometimes people think, ‘Oh well,’ once they’ve gotten past a certain point, there’s diminishing returns or some people say, ‘Well, I’ve lived this long with a certain lifestyle, why do I have to change now?’ But this shows that at all these different ages, there (are) benefits to losing weight,” Lee says. “And I think that’s important.”
It’s important to note that the savings calculations are on the conservative side because the study focused only on major obesity-related chronic diseases. Also, the savings figures are not just savings that directly affect individuals. Employers, third-party payers – such as insurance companies and Medicare – and society are all going to pay more or less based on the health of individuals.
Lee says there are many examples of people who lose weight and change their health significantly. Some might be pre-diabetes, lose weight and then normalize their blood sugar. So, losing weight could halt the progression or reverse Type 2 diabetes.
“There are situations where you can see fairly quick effects,” Lee says. “The same thing is true with things like blood pressure, etc. – when people lose pounds, those indicators can stabilize or normalize. And also people start feeling better as well.”
Study finds exercise can lower costs
Research in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA), the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, determined that patients who regularly exercised at recommended levels paid $2,500 less, on average, in health care costs than those who didn’t meet exercise guidelines. The study also found that even if only 20 percent of patients with cardiovascular disease who don’t get enough physical activity met exercise goals, the nation would save several billion dollars annually on health care costs. It also determined that both healthy patients and those with cardiovascular risk factors – as long as they exercised the recommended amount – had lower average medical costs. This 2016 study used data from a 2012 survey that sampled 26,000 people 18 and over.
Large health care costs are a big concern for Americans. A recent Bankrate survey found that 25 percent of women and 18 percent of men said they or a family member living in their household avoided going to the doctor over the past year – even though they needed medical attention – because they thought it would be too expensive.
Improving your fiscal fitness
Carol Craigie, ChFC, certified financial planner, says that physical fitness and fiscal fitness go together.
“If you limit your calories but it’s all chocolate and ice cream, then you’re not going to be healthy,” Craigie says. “And if you limit your spending but it’s all on stuff and not saving for the future, you’re not going to be (financially) healthy.”
Craigie says one of her clubs realized that some millennials spend a lot of money dining out and are gaining weight. So the club came up with 12 days of meals, ordered them through Walmart and picked them up at drive-through. Craigie says this was a triple win.
“They saved time, saved money and lost weight,” says Craigie, who is managing partner and a financial coach at Fiscal Fitness Clubs of America. The group also saved on the impulse buys at the grocery store by preordering and using the drive-through.