With their most frightening figure — that excess fat supposedly causes 400,000 deaths a year — thoroughly debunked, obesity scaremongers are now leaning more heavily on an equally media-friendly factoid: that obesity hits us where it counts — the pocketbook. To substantiate this claim, they take a cue from Dr. Evil and turn to a deeply flawed study by Anne Wolf and Graham Colditz, which concluded that obesity costs the U.S. economy $117 billion each year. This frequently cited statistic has been used to justify numerous proposed regulations aimed at forcibly slimming us down. But the Wolf-Colditz study is just one example among many intended to spur Americans into action. For comparison, consider some other supposedly hundred-billion-dollar problems.

The National Commission on Sleep Disorders Research reports that lost sleep costs the nation $150 billion dollars a year.

The World Resources Institute claims that traffic costs the nation more than $100 billion annually due to lost productivity alone (not counting the extra cost of gasoline or accidents associated with road congestion).


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says that chronic pain is a real pain in the nation’s wallet — costing upwards of $100 billion a year.

The U.S. National Pharmaceutical Council complains that non-compliance with medication instructions in the U.S. totals a hefty sum of $100 billion, and caused 125,000 unnecessary deaths in 1990 alone.

So where’s the outrage? Where is the Surgeon General’s “Call to Action” on sleep? When is the Secretary of Transportation’s high-profile conference to solve the immense cost of traffic? If these and so many other problems are so costly, why does their importance pale in comparison to obesity? The answer is simple. A powerful lobby of trial lawyers, pharmaceutical companies, and activists with obesity axes to grind have over-hyped the problem for their own personal gain.