What are the economic impact and costs with obesity

Mike Huckabee is running for president of the United States, and he seems to think that obesity is the cause for many economic issues in the United States.

Governor Huckabee said that there were three reasons obesity causes economic impact:

  • Obese young people won’t be able to pass military physicals
  • Obese people don’t show up to work
  • Obese children won’t live longer than their parents


Before we take these points in order, it should be known that Governor Huckabee was once obese, and lost 110 pounds in a year. This spurred his writing of a book entitled, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork. I’ve read the book and it’s pretty good (mental note write review.) Yet, we all know that formerly obese people are like former smokers … sometimes they take things too far.

  • Military Physicals: Let’s take a look at the military’s physical guidelines. They use body fat percentage, which is a better indicator of health than the BMI. The military requires body fat for recruits 12-20 years of age to be 24% or less. The recommended amount of body fat percentage according to the medical community is 13-17%.  If Governor Huckabee is concerned about the future he’s a little late.
  • Wok absenteeism due to obesity: This is an interesting thing to trot out. I’ve spent hours reading about it, and the studies are fairly flawed. For instance, one of the work obesity studies most people point to was self reported. The Scandanavian folks seem to understand this limitation and the complex way of researching this, as they said:

If these unmeasured predictors lead to both obesity and, say, absenteeism, then our statistical analysis will overestimate the effects of obesity on absenteeism. The econometric technique—instrumental variables—removes the bias of unobserved predictors. When this technique has been applied, smaller effects of smoking on absenteeism (7) and wages (3) are observed.


  • Obese children dying young: Of all the startling claims Governor Huckabee made is this one. Children not outliving their parents? I couldn’t find any studies to support this, and I would be surprised if there were any. The timeframe is too short to predict anything like this, and medical science is always moving ahead of the curve.

In the next couple of days we’ll look at being healthy obese. Governor Huckabee would do well to promote the positives in the United States.