The Cost of Obesity
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Sandra Green relaxes after her doctor's appointment in Jackson
Mark Rigsby - MPB News

Medical bills for people who are obese are thousands of dollars more than those who are not. As MPB News continues our series - State of Obesity, Mark Rigsby checked into who pays for obesity, who's making money, and who's losing money from it.
  
  
Sandra Green is 52 years old. She weighs 430 pounds.

"Throughout high school I was used to heavy people. Eating habits were pretty poor. I wasn't taught proper dieting. In college, with the stress and everything, again, I really wasn't paying much attention to my eating habits or my size."

Green is from Tchula, in Holmes County, where the obesity rate is 44%. The Mississippi State Department of Health released an Obesity Action Plan in 2016. It says Mississippi has the third highest rate of adult obesity in the nation. According to the report, people who are obese spend on average $2,700 more for medical expenses each year than someone with normal weight. Green says she already met her health insurance deductible earlier this year, and she still has medical bills to pay. She says being heavy has lead to other medical conditions.

"For me, as I got older, diagnosis were added, like hypertension and diabetes. Then my hip pain. With the more diagnosis, you're getting more medications and more procedures. That's more costs."

Green says she believes she spends more money because of her condition, but who's profiting?
According to a Business Insider report on industries making money from obesity, fast food, fast food suppliers, and health care are on the list. Companies that make drugs to control diabetes and cholesterol, like Pfizer and Merck, are also making money. But a few industries that you may not think of, like television and energy, make money from sedentary lifestyles. Even the most basic part of everyday life can be a challenge for someone with obesity. Green says she purchased a larger toilet for her home so she could be comfortable.
 
"I remember when I bought it. I found it at Lowe's. And I said, man this is a big toilet and it looks like it's really comfortable."

"How much did that cost you?"

"It was like 200 and something I believe, because I've had it four or five years."

Green understands it's only fair for her to pay more for larger size clothing because it takes more material to make.

"Even for uniforms, when you go in for nursing uniforms. You'll have small, medium, large, and extra large. As the size goes up, it will be two dollars more or four dollars more. I don't want to be odd out just because I'm heavy. If I have to pay two dollars more so my uniform looks the same as theirs, I'm willing to pay that."

According to market researchers J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, 100 million plus-size women in America spent $20 billion on apparel last year. Brian Beitler is the Chief Marketing Officer for Lane Bryant and Catherine's. Both stores sell fashionable clothing for plus size women. He says both brands recognize this as a growing segment of the market.

"The reality is that we think the industry should've grown earlier and faster, but a lot of people were paying attention to this customer. Women who are size 12 or better love fashion just as much as their smaller counterparts. They want options. They want choices. And for brands that provide that, and do it well, and do it consistently well, there will be a bright future."

Green is a registered nurse who travels to other states for work. But some with the condition may find it harder to get a job. Ted Kyle is the spokesman for The Obesity Society. He says one of the costs of obesity, to some, is employment discrimination.

"A person with obesity compared to someone with identical qualifications is less likely to get a job that they're qualified for because of their obesity. They tend to be paid get lower wages. They tend to encounter discrimination in terms of promotion."

A Duke University study in 2010 found the cost of obesity among employees who work full time cost employers $73 billion dollars. this is the estimated sum of employee medical bills, lost productivity on the job, and absenteeism.

Green has been off work for a while because of a back problem. She says her weight didn't cause it, but it contributes to it. Green says she can't wait to get back to work.

"In the situation now, with my back hurting, I have to do whatever I can, because I don't want to stop working, because I enjoy nursing. I was like, oh God, I don't want to sit around and do nothing. It's not me. It's not what I want to do. I enjoy working. I enjoy being with people."

Green is preparing herself for gastric sleeve weight loss surgery. She says she hopes to go from weighing more than 400 pounds, down to 175, but she says she won't let her weight hold her back from doing what she wants to in life.