Every year, millions of Americans make New Year’s resolutions, vowing to improve their life or quit some nasty habit. But with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, reporting that 1 in 3 Americans is obese, it’s likely many people will take this opportunity to redouble their battles against expanding waistlines.
Certainly, the pursuit of a healthier body in 2012 is a noble goal, but it also makes financial sense.
If you need a little extra motivation to lose weight in 2012, here are five reasons a tighter belt might fatten your wallet.
Get a job, or find a better one
While it’s often hard to pinpoint, weight discrimination is a factor for overweight job seekers who can — and sometimes do — lose out to thinner workers. According to statistics compiled at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., 60 percent of heavy women and 40 percent of heavy men have reported some form of employment discrimination.
Equally striking, the same data show 16 percent of employers admitted they would not hire obese candidates, regardless of their qualifications.
The root causes of this form of discrimination aren’t known. Theories range from hiring managers perceiving overweight job applicants as lazy to a bias in favor of more attractive, thinner job seekers.
Whatever the causes, Amy Jo Lauber, a CFP in West Seneca, N.Y., says overweight Americans need to consider how their weight affects their job prospects. Lauber recently wrote “LIFE: live inspired, financially empowered,” in which she dedicated a chapter to overweight job seekers.
“Sadly, how a person looks is important for a lot of reasons,” Lauber says. “But in a job setting, a candidate who is thin, or at least getting trim, is going to demonstrate commitment and perseverance, both of which are good attributes in an employee.”
Lose weight, raise your wages
While it’s often harder for overweight people to land a job, there’s also good evidence to suggest they won’t make nearly as much as their thinner co-workers. According to a working paper from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, overweight employees pay a wage penalty. Women earn 6 percent less on average than thinner co-workers, and men fare slightly better, earning 3 percent less on average than their thinner counterparts.
Like employment discrimination, it’s hard to determine the root causes, and there are a number of factors that play into compensation. But according to author Steve Siebold, who wrote “Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People,” overweight employees send the wrong message to hiring managers and suffer diminished wages as a result.
“(Being overweight) sends a message to the hiring manager that you can’t take care of yourself, so how are you going to care for a job with their company?” Siebold says.
Lower health care and insurance costs
While it’s difficult to say precisely how much, it’s no secret overweight and obese Americans drive up health care and insurance costs. The CDC estimated nationwide costs associated with obesity in 2008 at $147 billion. The CDC also estimates that U.S. insurance companies spend on average an additional $1,429 on health care per year for their obese members.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services estimates obesity’s annual health- and work-related costs amount to $4,789 for a woman and $2,646 for a man when compared to their normal-sized counterparts.
“The savings may not be the motivation for losing weight,” says Dr. John Ellis, a Chicago physician who blogs about his own battle to lose 100 pounds. “But you can be certain that, over the long haul, a person with a healthy body weight will save on insurance and health care because he’ll likely be healthier.”
In fact, the emphasis on health is the key. If the money isn’t reason enough to lose weight, minimizing the risk of obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, should be a good motivator, Ellis says.
Get paid to lose weight
To combat rising health care costs, some employers have taken the novel step of paying their employees to either lose weight or keep it off. According to one study from Los Angeles-based human resources firm Buck Consultants, employees participating in employer-sponsored weight-loss programs earn an average of $163 per year. Increasingly, those types of programs seem to be on the rise, says Pete Maughan, CEO of Weight Loss Wars, a Keller, Texas, company that helps employers set up weight-loss competitions and track performance online.
According to Maughan, programs can run the gamut. Some are pools where employees compete to see who can lose the most weight, and some are programs that reward any employees who make progress. Maughan says some firms pay out rewards, ranging from $500 to $5,000, although it’s more common for employers to give out prizes such as iPads. Instead of emphasizing sheer pounds lost, employers tend to focus on the percentage of weight lost as well as engagement week over week in order to promote a healthy lifestyle.
While work and health care are two areas where overweight Americans would be most likely to see the biggest financial benefits of weight loss, extra weight also negatively impacts our spending habits, too.
Ellis says he found losing 100 pounds translated to a big savings on food costs. “I eat less, so I spend less,” he says. “I also cook more and avoid delivery, restaurants and fast food, which are more expensive than making your own meals.”
Other expenditures, such as clothing and transportation, also tend to come down in cost for those who lose a lot of weight, Ellis says. Initially, there is an added cost for new clothes, but the savings comes from not having to buy a new wardrobe because of yo-yo dieting.
But while he says being thinner certainly puts him on better financial footing, Ellis isn’t so sure most people will make the connection between their weight and their wallet.
“The payoffs are too far in the future for most people,” Ellis says. “Weight loss requires lifestyle changes that are in opposition to many habits (such as) long commutes, TV, fast food, jobs where one sits all day and inadequate sleep — all of which have become the norm in America today.”