Posted by Leonard Steinberg on February 26th, 2014

So many New Yorkers were outraged by Mayor Bloomberg’s efforts to curb obesity by posting nutritional and caloric content with all foods sold (now a world-wide trend), limiting the size of sugary sodas, banning trans-fats, etc. They said he was being too invasive with people’s ‘rights’, yet if you look at the facts, Bloomberg was not instigating these policies for his own personal good. As always, he was basing his policies on hard facts with no political bias. Today we learned that obesity rates are stable in the USA, but remain high. New York obesity rates are falling, and are notably lower than the rest of the country. In case you don’t think policies should address this problem, here are some facts to make you think again when it come to the cost to ALL for those who are obese, not mention the discomfort you may experience when seated next to someone obese on a bus, plane or subway:

  1. $190 billion — That’s the amount of added medical costs every year that are estimated to stem from obesity-related problems. It’s nearly 21% of total U.S. health care costs.
  2. 105% — According to a study conducted by the Brookings Institution, this is the increased amount that obese Americans pay for prescription drugs compared to individuals who aren’t obese.
  3. $3.4 billion — Cars are burning around 938 million gallons of gasoline per year more than they would if Americans weighed what they did in 1960.
  4. $164 billion — The Society of Actuaries estimates that U.S. employers are losing this amount in productivity each year due to obesity-related issues with employees.
  5. $6.4 billion — Every year, this amount is estimated to be lost due to employee absenteeism related to obesity.
  6. $1 billion — U.S. airlines are consuming an extra 350 million gallons of fuel per year due to overweight passengers.
  7. $14.3 billion — This is how much childhood obesity costs the U.S. each year, according to a published study from the Brookings Institution.
  8. $62 billion — Medicare and Medicaid are spending nearly this amount every year on obesity-related costs.
  9. $66 billion — Columbia University researchers say that if current trends don’t change, annul obesity-related medical costs in the U.S. could increase this amount by 2030.
  10. $580 billion — The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation predicts that annual economic productivity loss due to obesity could hit this staggering amount by 2030 unless the current situation changes.

Obesity is in many ways a disease akin to alcoholism or drug abuse: Many who are obese have great difficulty breaking bad habits or curtailing desire for excessive amounts of food. Surely we as a society can help by removing some of the things that  could make being obese more difficult? We all need a support system in life and if everyone banded together to help those who are obese, we would ALL be the beneficiaries. If you look at the foods shoved in front of us each day, the majority are excessively sugary, salty or high in calories. Many are overly processed. Slowly but surely in New York, the awareness and availability of healthy foods keeps growing. The words ‘organic’, ‘low fat’, ‘low calorie count’ are now seen almost everywhere throughout the City. It has become increasingly easier to buy a healthy, low fat, low calorie organic meal. So what on earth does this have to do with real estate?

As apartments shrink more in size (just the way cars have in the past 10 years), being obese could make living in a large City like New York even more uncomfortable. Micro-apartments are a good solution to affordable housing but only if the inhabitants can fit into them comfortably. These days one sees many newly built 2 bedroom apartments condensed into 1,100sf, or less. Being able to scale down the size of furniture helps living conditions to feel better too. Our infrastructure would also be less stressed.

Obesity in many instances is a tragic condition. But it is curable. And it can be avoided in most cases. This is not a time for finger-pointing, shaming or blame: But now is as good a time as ever for our City and State to put in place structures that help prevent and treat obesity to help support those who are afflicted by this disease… affects us all.