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BLOG VIEW: Did you know that the U.S. spends $190 billion a year treating illnesses tied to obesity? Did you know that the number of obese Americans has tripled in the past half-century years, from 13% to 34%? And were you aware that studies have shown obese individuals are less likely to be hired and promoted than their slimmer peers?

I know what you're probably thinking: Hey, Phil, this isn't Dr. Oz' show - aren't you supposed to be talking about housing finance and mortgage banking? Actually, there is a tie-in between the obesity epidemic and housing - and its results appear to offer a lose-lose situation for all parties involved.

Let's circle back to the beginning. If the nation spends $190 billion annually on medical costs relating to obesity - and this runs the gamut from heart disease to diabetes to a number of other unpleasant conditions - that means it is not spending $190 billion on other things, including housing.

Last year, the Journal of Health Economics reported that the annual medical spending for an obese person was $3,271; a non-obese person, in comparison, only spent $512. Obese men, in particular, accounted for an additional $1,152 a year in medical spending, while obese women accounted for an extra $3,613 a year. The survey did not include figures for obese children, though we could easily assume the numbers would be much higher if medical spending on kids was factored into the mix.

Health-related spending is often cited as a key reason why many homeowners fall behind on their mortgage payments, and it is not to ascertain what impact this growing health crisis could wreak on our industry. If the nation's obesity levels continue to rise, it would not be silly to imagine more homeowners within this demographic will face problems with their home loan payments as a result of trying to pay for their medical coverage.

And at the risk of being political, I have to point out that one of the major failings of Obamacare has been its inability to place serious controls on medical-related expenses. There is no evidence to suggest that the costs attached to medical procedures and prescription drugs will be falling any time in the near future, so I am sorry to predict that this bad situation will only be getting worse.

Also, there is the problem of obese individuals having more problems in obtaining jobs and gaining promotions. Well, that represents a potential concern for originators. After all, people are not going to be able to qualify for a mortgage if they have no job or if their earning power is in a state of permanent stagnation. Homeownership could easily shrink while the nation's girth expands.

But that's just the view of today's obese adults. Other data has determined that 17% of Americans between the ages of two and 19 are considered obese. Needless to say, these young people are coming of age with problems that will have a serious impact on their health and finances - and it would be a safe bet to assume too many of these young people will not grow up to have the financial capacity to pursue homeownership.

Sadly, this appears to be a self-defeating cycle. Other studies have found some of the factors that have been driving up the obesity levels are financial pressures tied to wages, health care and - especially among low-income families - poor housing.

There is no easy answer to solving this problem. Nonetheless, I believe that there should be serious research to determine the depth and scope of the financial connection between housing finance and obesity. And while I freely admit there are other pressing issues that the industry needs to address, I believe it is a mistake to ignore this health crisis and the potential impact it could have on the housing market.

- Phil Hall, editor, MortgageOrb

(Please address all comments regarding this opinion column to hallp@mortgageorb.com.)



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