CHICAGO – America is paying for its obese population.
Carmen Bowen, a nearly 800-pound woman in Cleveland, got a customized living environment that cost the Public Housing Authority of Cleveland more than $15,000 to increase the size of the doors and rooms in her subsidized housing unit. Bowen complained the previous dimensions of her unit were unsafe; last August, 22 firefighters and two EMS personnel were required to remove her from her home.
Bowen had been unable to walk and was bed-ridden for three years because of her weight. Under federal law, this condition labels her "disabled" and qualifies her for the enlarged housing. Her attorney noted that she is also classified as "handicapped."
Critics decry such accommodations as special treatment that drains the nation of income and forces others to change their lifestyles to meet the needs of the obese. Health-care costs alone exceeded more than $117 billion annually, while businesses forked over $12 billion in medical claim costs and lower productivity, according to the Washington Business Group on Health (search).
"Obese people are absent more often. And they're not as productive, even when they are on the job," said Helen Darling, president of the Washington Business Group on Health.
Signs abound that corporate America has made concessions to appeal to the growing population of obese customers. At restaurants nationwide, low-fat and low-carb items are now staples, while hospitals have installed larger beds and new equipment. Last year, the Internal Revenue Service (search) recognized obesity as a disease, allowing deductions for weight-loss programs.
Critics have said the effects of obesity have gone too far.
"I find it hard to believe that someone gets to be 800 pounds without recognizing that it's happening to them and then all of a sudden it's the responsibility of the public," said Rick Berman of the Center for Consumer Freedom (search). "If they don't have enough intelligence to put themselves in a better situation, I don't know why it becomes a taxpayer problem."
Avery Friedman, Bowen's attorney, said that Bowen was not to blame for her condition. "She has had doctors watching over her and has done everything reasonable to try to get better," he said. "This isn't an individual that says 'I don't really care, I want government help.'"
Dr. Richard Atkinson, president of the American Obesity Association (search), agreed obesity does not come without a price, but noted the obese end up paying more for it personally.
"Obesity is an expensive process in every way," said Atkinson. "The first way is just the personal costs. They can't get as good a job. It's very costly for the obese person."
"Society is not doing enough for obese people," said Bowen, who said she spends her time reading poetry and watching TV. "It might not look like a good quality of life, but to me, this is all I'm going to have. And I'm going to make the best of it."
Obesity is calculated by a person's Body Mass Index (BMI), a mathematical calculation determined by dividing a person's body weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared.
More information on how to calculate BMI can be found on the American Obesity Association Web site.
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