The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 15, 2013

Obesity problem could help Social Security woes


---- — THERE WAS A LOT written about Medicare and Social Security recently and how both programs will be running out of money in the next couple of decades.

Supposedly, Medicare funds will be erased by 2026, while Social Security will run out by the year 2033. Naturally, this is a concern to anyone who is at, or approaching, Social Security age.

It was one of the topics a group of us were discussing after Senior Follies practice recently, which of course is a very serious concern for those of us aged 50 and older. I pointed out that there is a possible savior for the two programs.

That savior is obesity.

Because of the high level of obesity among young people today -- as sad as it is to say -- many will die at a younger age and there will be more Social Security money left for the rest of us.

According to studies, young men who are obese at the age of 20 will die 20 years earlier than other men. That means many of them will not even come close to reaching their 60th birthday.

But while it will help the Social Security funds, it unfortunately will bring higher costs for health care because many of the overweight people will be draining health insurance funds because of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and other ailments associated with being overweight.

So that is a reason more businesses and industries today choose not to hire people who are overweight or people who smoke. Those people normally require more sick days, cost more on health insurance, and are less productive than other employees who aren’t heavy or don’t smoke.

But then again, people who are obese or smoke on average die earlier than others. That could explain why I read that for the first time in many years the actual age expectancy level in the United States came down slightly.

That’s a sad commentary on health in this country.

In Pennsylvania alone, 28.5 percent of the population is considered to be obese. Meanwhile, 15 percent of children and adolescents (ages 10-17) are obese. But as schools keep cutting back on physical education, that percentage will probably go up.

In the United States, a dozen states have rates higher than 30 percent.

Many things go into the obesity rates of course, including higher rates among racial and ethnic minorities, as well as those with less education and less money.

Because of the publicity blitz about the dangers of smoking, the number of puffers in the United States has dropped considerably in the last decade. But sadly, we as a country have been unable to stop the climbing obesity rates no matter how much is brought out in the media.

But hey, because of that, just maybe Social Security will be in good shape after all.

The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this weekly column for the Opinion Page.