THE NATIONAL WAISTLINE: major league baseball and free agency serve as a reminder that obesity impacts far more than long-term physical health

DISCLAIMER:  This isn’t necessarily a post about baseball, at least insofar as it isn’t directed towards fans of our national pastime.  Personally, I get giddy when pitchers and catchers report to camp, and I’m sure that I’ll toss out a few entries about about prospects and sabermetrics during the season.  For the time being, if you’re looking to read about signings, trades and arbitration, I’d suggest looking at ESPN, Sports Illustrated, the Sporting News or HardballTalk.  

UPDATE:  Prince Fielder and the Detroit Tigers have agreed to a contract that will reportedly pay the slugger $214 million over 9 years.  Good for Prince.  Shame on Sports Illustrated for running a headline that referred to the deal as a “hefty gamble.”

Prince Fielder stands to make a heck of a lot of money.  The 27-year-old first baseman is an elite slugger and the best remaining free agent in Major League Baseball.  Any number of organizations would jump at the opportunity to insert him into their starting lineups.  They’ll have to show him the proverbial money, though, because he is asking for a contract that will pay $200 million over the next eight to ten years.

His productivity certainly suggests that he’s deserving of a lucrative contract.  Prince has, however, encountered a bit of a stumbling block in his negotiations.  Organizations are leery about committing so much money over such an extended period of time because they’re concerned about his ability to maintain his current level of production.

That’s not necessarily a surprise, simply because $200 million is a heck of a lot of money and eight to ten years is a heck of a long period of time.  Professional athletes are human, after all, and their skills and abilities will regress as they age.  Fiscal responsibility almost necessitates a comparison of the cost of later years with the expected regression in productivity during that time.

Well, maybe this situation is a little bit unusual, because Prince is a little bit different than the average major leaguer.  He stands at less than 6 feet tall but tips the proverbial scales at around 275 lbs.  In other words, he’s big, and bigger bodies typically break down at an accelerated rate.  This essentially means that clubs fear they may not realize as great of a return over the life his contract as they would if they spent their money on a more athletic and fit player.

Now, I’m not writing this post to criticize Prince, his lifestyle or his work ethic.  I’m certainly not poking fun at his size.  A lot of people have difficulty in managing their weight regardless of how often they exercise or how much attention they pay to their diet.  There’s wisdom in the old sayings, and there’s certainly wisdom in knowing that we can’t simply judge a book by its cover.

Still, we often focus on the correlation between weight and long-term well-being, but the fact of the matter is that Prince’s weight threatens to cost him millions or tens of millions of dollars in the immediate future.  Most may not be able to relate to the scope of his salary, but a number of overweight and obese people experience economic consequences that are the direct result of their build.  In fact, Americans who struggle with their weight face a variety of challenges that are wholly unrelated to the size of their waist.  For example:

  • Obese people often suffer from stereotypes and negative social stigmata.  There’s little doubt that society wants her people to be thin, attractive and athletic.  This desire has helped foster an environment where the public is literally drowning in a sea of advertisements, television programming, Hollywood productions and celebrity appearances that typically involve only the most attractive and handsome people.  Obese people, on the other hand, are often viewed as lazy, sloppy and indulgent, and they’re often blamed for being unable to attain mostly unattainable qualities.

There are a number of other consequences of obesity that do not necessarily relate to a person’s long-term physical health.  These consequences don’t even begin to account for the aggregate impact that obesity is having upon our economy.  Research has shown, for example, that obesity may already be costing employers in excess of $73 billion per year.  It is also having a significant effect on the national economy, and the collective health care costs and overall loss of productivity resulting from obesity have been estimated to cost as much as $147 billion per year.

To put this in perspective: $147 billion is more than the gross domestic product of a number of countries, such as New Zealand and Hungary, and the figure is greater than the combined gross state product of South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Vermont.

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