So during the ravages of the Darkness That Came From Hubei Province, the Creeping Doom of Wuhan, The Disease That May Or May Not Have Come From A Lab Or From Bats And Pangolins Getting Frisky, Americans got a lot fatter. Over a third of us are obese now, and plenty more are overweight but not obese. Meaning about 70% of us are at least a few sizes too big.
There’s no excuse for this. Sure, many of us were forced to stay home and gyms were closed. Even people going out for a jog were rounded up by cops, at least in the early days. But there are plenty of exercises we can do without leaving the house. And the healthy food options are still available at the grocery store, even when toilet paper isn’t. I personally lost weight during COVID, even though I worked from home over a year. Because we can still eat right and exercise without leaving the house. And we’re screwing ourselves by not being in shape. And I’m not just talking about the whole “early death” thing. I’m talking about something central to the existence of any accountant, like myself. Money.
According to one article I’ve read, being a giant blob of flesh can increase one’s personal health care costs by 29%. You may have heard that healthcare is a bit on the pricey side in the U.S. And by that I mean that health care costs in these United States are the highest per capita in the OECD, at a little over $10,000 per person. And these higher costs, due in part to obesity, mean higher health insurance premiums. And America being swole in the wrong way also means higher life insurance premiums, worker’s comp premiums, and disability premiums. And we also lose money because we miss work more often. All because we’re not taking care of ourselves.
Here’s what one article I found said: Between 2000 and 2010, the costliest disease with the fastest growth rate in cost was hyperlipidemia, which is high cholesterol and triglycerides. This is a self-inflicted wound from eating the wrong things (and drinking the wrong things, which, in addition to being bad for your diet, can jack up triglycerides) and not getting enough exercise.
This is bad all around for the nation. We’re fat and miserable. And this decline in mental and physical health translates into a general decline in the health of the nation. If Uncle Sam were to call us to action today, it wouldn’t be to fight Nazis or Commies or some other external threat. It would be to fight off our internal problem of poor health.
Now, if our healthcare costs dropped 29% we would still have the second most expensive healthcare system on a per capita basis in the OECD. That strange land of chocolate and clockworks would be number one. But it would still knock down our expenses significantly, both out-of-pocket and for insurance companies and the government. And there would be less lost work and less time on disability, which helps us all financially. And if we all got in shape, the actuaries would notice, and we’d see insurance premiums, healthcare, life and disability, decline significantly.
I know the “lost work” is true in part due to personal experience. Over the past two and a half years, since I started eating healthy, I’ve been truly sick one time, a rather ugly sinus infection that I actually needed a doctor for. Previously, I would get a cold 2 to 4 times a year, and it would keep me out of work for 1-3 days each time. Now, I’m not even sure I’m sick when I have a cold, because the symptoms are so mild. I rarely miss work anymore, and when I do feel sick, it’s far less debilitating than it used to be. Instead of missing a week or two of work per year, I rarely miss any, and the positive financial impact is noticeable.
And maybe part of the problem is that people don’t have access to a doctor, but ask yourself how much time does the typical person spend with a doctor each year. An hour? Two hours? Ten? Even if it was a hundred, that would be only slightly more than 1% of all of the hours each year. Your health is primarily about what you do with the other 99% of your time, not the precious few hours you may spend with a doctor.
You may be saying, yeah, Triple D (nobody calls me that), but we spent a quarter of that time just sleeping. Yeah, you’re obviously not using that time to eat healthy or exercise. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. Because we should be spending more like a third or so of our time sleeping. Not getting enough sleep appears to be a factor in the obesity epidemic. And getting enough sleep is one of those key health decisions that doesn’t really involve your doctor.
Most of us have no excuse for eating poorly, either. For most people, the healthy options are available. We spend too much time buying the pre-prepared crap or the junk in boxes in the aisles of the grocery store. Instead, if we bought the fresh stuff and cooked for ourselves, we’d be in much better shape. I noted before how cooking for myself helped reduce my waistline. We can all do it, we’re just choosing not to. Even in a year when we had all the time in the world to get it together, we made it worse.
You might be thinking, not everybody has these options. What about people who live in “food deserts”? Which, for those of you who don’t know, are places where people don’t have access to a grocery store. That might be a part of it, but only 24 million people live in food deserts. We’ve got a lot more than 24 million fat people in the United States.
And even though there are huge portions of the United States that are considered food deserts, that can be a little misleading. Because some of them are actual deserts. Most of Nevada is a food desert, because most of Nevada is also the Mojave desert. But nobody really lives there, except maybe Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. Neither of whom are obese.
And there are broad swaths of Alaska that are food deserts, but almost nobody lives there either. That’s because those are vast areas of tundra, which really is just a frozen desert. And the type of people who do live there don’t need a grocery store. You see these people on the Discovery Channel. They’re all rugged outdoorsy types with massive hobo beards. They are perfectly capable of killing and eating their own food. And their lifestyle rarely results in obesity. So the food desert thing isn’t much of an excuse.
Losing weight is not as difficult as people let on. I’ve discovered several simple tricks to improve one’s health. Losing weight only requires moderate discipline. Thirty minutes of exercise a day isn’t a lot to ask, especially if you have an active job or can commute to work by foot or bicycle. Cooking your own food isn’t as time consuming as you might think and is much healthier than fast food or processed, pre-made food.
Since I work as a CPA, I couldn’t help but notice how similar the process of going from unhealthy to healthy living is to the process of businesses going from unprofitability to profitability. Usually, failing businesses are only doing a few things wrong. If they take the time to analyze what they’re doing, and can identify these things, it suddenly becomes easy, and they wonder why they didn’t figure it out sooner.
Healthy living is the same way. Most Americans aren’t living healthy, but it’s not necessarily as bad as we think it is. For most of us, making a few simple adjustments will take us from unhealthy and unhappy to healthy and happy in a relatively short time. Even if it takes years to get to normal weight, you’ll start to notice the results in terms of energy levels, mental health, and wellness within a few weeks.
So it’s time for everyone to start thinking about eating better and exercising more. It takes thirty days to break a bad habit or develop a good one. So for thirty days, try only eating healthy food that you cook for yourself. Or if you do go out, get healthy food, not fast food. Make your snack foods fruits and vegetables, not chips and dip. Make a point of getting thirty minutes of exercise everyday, even if you just do jumping jacks in front of the television. If we all do it, we’ll all notice the waistline start to decline, and we’ll continue the habit.
Like I said before, I personally noticed the results before a month was over. I was more energetic, more confident, and more productive. I missed less work, because I wasn’t sick so much, and made more money as a result. I no longer needed the high blood pressure and high cholesterol medicines, which saved a pretty penny. If everybody did this, we’d notice improvements not only in ourselves, but in society overall. We wouldn’t spend so much on healthcare and we wouldn’t be so miserable. If everybody did this, we’d be a healthier, happier, more prosperous nation.